Monday, 26 December 2011

26 Dec: Social ride to St Ives (and beyond)

Nigel writes: I found seven members waiting at Brookside for this morning's short social ride to St Ives: Rupert, Cathy, John, Julia, Steve, Jacob and Ian. The weather was cloudy but bright, and extremely mild. There was a steady wind from south-west but it was not cold, and we remarked that we had worn shorts on colder days than this.

Rupert led us across Parker's Piece and down to the river at Midsummer Common. We followed the south side of the river downstream to the Riverside Cycle Bridge, where we crossed over to Chesterton. After a short section through streets we met the river once more to follow the path along the north side out of the city.

On the river we passed a rowing eight and a few dozen walkers, but otherwise it was very quiet. A few miles further we reached Bait's Bite Lock.

Just beyond we turned west away from the river into Milton, where we rejoined the road south to the cycle bridge over the A14.

This took us onto Milton Road and the start of the busway cycleway which would take us all the way to St Ives, about 13 miles away.

Swavesey Church

The cycleway was quiet, with few other cyclists and not many pedestrians, except for the attractive section past Fen Drayton lakes which was busy with Boxing-Day strollers. It being Boxing Day there were no buses, either.

Before long we arrived in St Ives, which seemed quite busy with several shops and cafes open. As arranged we stopped at the Oliver Cromwell pub for a drink. Here we found Mike S waiting for us.

After a pleasant drink most of the group returned back to Cambridge along the busway cycleway. This would have made a round trip of about 35 miles.

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I, however, was keen to have a longer ride, to make the most of what was a very mild day. Together with Steve and John we rode the short distance to the Local Cafe in the middle of the town and had lunch. Afterwards John and Steve, too, returned back to Cambridge along the busway cycleway, leaving me to continue on my own.

On this non-social solo excursion I crossed over the river and joined NCR 51 through the Hemingfords to Godmanchester and from there to Huntingdon. Here I joined NCR 12 which I followed north to Alconbury. From here a series of empty lanes took me north through the countryside west of the A1 and then east to Peterborough. I had planned to follow the well-signposted NCR 12 all the way but according to the map this would have followed the A1(M) for some of the way, so instead I continued further north before heading into Peterborough via Haddon.

By the time I arrived in Peterborough City Centre it was 4.45pm.

Peterborough Cathedral gatehouse

I stopped at McDonalds for a warm Chicken salad sandwich and a coffee, which I ate on a bench outside whilst planning the long ride south to Cambridge. (The food and drink were rather good, and astonishingly cheap).

My route home was dominated by the wind. It had been windy all day. but for most of the time it had been wholly or martially behind me. However for the homeward journey I could not avoid riding directly into it.

I took a fairly direct route via B1095 and B1040 to Ramsey St Mary's and then along minor roads to Ramsey Heights and Upwood. The section between Pondersbridge to Upwood is about six miles, most of it along a completely straight road, directly into the wind. The only way to handle headwinds is simply to change to a low gear, put your head down, and be patient. During the day I would have been surrounded by flat fenland vastness, but in the dark it felt quite intimate with just me, my bright lights, and the surrounding darkness. Fortunately it wasn't in the least bit cold.

After Upwood I continued through Great and Little Raveley to Broughton. This changed my direction from south to south-east, and with an element of wind behind me I speeded up.


I continued south-east through Woodhurst and Bluntisham and Earith, where I crossed the River Great Ouse and took the B1050 south to Willingham and Longstanton. This was the only road I had used all day with any significant traffic, and even this was light.

At Longstanton I met the busway cycleway once more, and from here, and with the wind behind me once more, I made a rapid return to Cambridge. I arrived home at 9.40pm, still feeling surpringly strong despite having cycled 96 miles.


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Thursday, 22 December 2011

22 Dec: Thursday ride to Reed and Orwell

Edward writes: A glorious day and, in contrast to last Thursday, thirteen riders assembled for the start of our ride out to Reed and Orwell. This may have been seen as a final opportunity for a leg stretch before the Christmas period begins.

The start

We set off over Chapel Hill toward Barrington and were rewarded with the first of the day's many glorious views. The sun over the land down below in Barrington and beyond made the view look really wonderful. At the bottom of the hill we turned left and headed towards Foxton and the railway crossing where we waited for a train to go through. As we were crossing the road the gates came down again but this didn't prevent a white van driver making a risky dash through as the gates descended.

Foxton Railway Crossing

After Foxton we took the road to Fowlmere and, although the wind wasn't all that strong, it did make its presence felt over this stretch as there is no hedgerow protection. After Fowlmere it was out to the A505 which we crossed with relative ease and then the long incline up to Chrisall Grange. This was followed by the long climb up to the turnings for Elmdon and Heydon. This was an opportunity for the group to reassemble as we had become quite strung out during this climb. We now had the advantage of height as we were able to appreciate the views which were made even better by the bright sunshine - it hardly looked a Christmas scene but after last week's winds and cold nobody was complaining. Just after we passed through Gt Chishill Peter W's chain broke and, as ever, Mike C was quickly on hand to offer assistance. While the repairs took place the remainder carried on towards Barkway.

Great Chishill

In Barkway we turned right on to the road to Reed and, again with the bright sunlight, the ride was just an extremely pleasant experience. At Reed we stopped at the Silver Ball Cafe and were joined by Doug, Brian B, Mike S and Mike B, thus bringing our total to seventeen. No sooner had we arrived Mike C and Peter W followed us in complete with repaired chain.


After coffee we took the road out through Reed End followed by Therfield and the long descent down to the A505. This was probably the highlight of the morning as, again, the sunlit views over the surrounding countryside were a joy. Although the wind was against us for this descent it hardly mattered as our momentum downhill more than compensated. When we got to the A505 we travelled along it for about a quarter of a mile before taking the road which goes past Ashwell and Morden railway station. This then took us to Steeple Morden which then took us out to the road which runs between Guilden Morden and Wendy and thence to the A1198. This is quite a long road and luckily we had the benefit of a following wind, again adding to the pleasure of the trip. We joined the A1198 for a few yards before going on to the A603 for the run through Wimpole village and the turning into Orwell which was to be our lunch stop. Already at lunch were eight more of our club making for a busy time for the pub's staff.

This report goes no further than Orwell as many people wanted to make their own way home. This really was a ride for the scrapbook; we had the pleasure of a bright sunny day, great views, and for the most part the wind seemed to work in our favour. It goes without saying our gratitude to Greta for great day out. We rode 33 miles. The shortest ride on the shortest day! Edward Elmer

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Sunday, 18 December 2011

This sign was spotted on a ride recently. We never ride far before stopping for food and drink; an old joke often retold within CTC is that our club stands for "cafe to cafe."

18 Dec: All-day ride to St Ives, West Perry and Waresley

Nigel writes: Today started cold and bright, with a chilly wind from the west. The approach of Christmas meant that I had plenty to do back home, and when I set off for Brookside I thought I'd just ride to coffee and then come back. In the event, and not for the first time, I ended up staying out all day. There was quite a good turnout at Brookside: Jim, Conrad, Adrian, Mick C, Richard B, Neil, Jim and Averil, our leader for today.

Our first stop today was St Ives for coffee, and as I had hoped Averil had decided to ride straight there along the busway cycleway. After a short discussion about the best route to get onto the cycleway I suggested heading down to the river, crossing over to Chesterton and then riding up Arbury Road and Northfield Avenue to join the cycleway at Orchard Park. Not the most scenic of routes, but the roads were quiet and the journey simple enough.

Once we reached the cycleway I think we all relaxed. Smooth, wide, traffic-free tarmac would carry us all the way to our coffee stop, about eleven miles away. A couple of miles further we passed a group of horses, reminding us that in addition to being an excellent cycleway this route was also a bridleway.

When we reached Oakington we were joined by Rupert, Cathy and Janice. As we rode along the weather began to deteriorate. We were riding into a gentle but persistent and cold headwind, and after a while it began to drizzle. For short periods the drizzle turned to sleet, and it became quite uncomfortable riding along with snowflakes blowing into the eyes. Fortunately it never got too bad, and the little patch of wet weather soon moved on.

We arrived in St Ives at almost exactly 11am. We stopped at Nuts Bistro and I ordered a warming bowl of soup.

By the time we left the cafe the weather had brightened up and the sun had come out. The weather had improved at just the point where each of us had to decide whether to return home or carry on to lunch, and I suppose I should not have been surprised to find that the majority of the group had chosen to stay on the ride. Perhaps we were all keen to get a few miles in credit before the excesses of the forthcoming holidays. In any case the sun was shining brightly as we rode over the town bridge towards Hemingford Grey.

Our route took us through the Hemingfords and then across the meadows to Godmanchester.

At Godmanchester we turned left by the "Chinese" bridge and followed the B1043 towards the Offords.

We were now riding into the wind and the sun had disappeared, making it now quite cold. Fortunately we didn't have very far to go. When we reached Offord Cluny we turned west towards Buckden, where a subway allowed us to cross the A1 without the need to use the busy roundabout close by.

After a couple of miles we found ourself riding below the high grassy dam at the eastern edge of Grafham Water.

We followed the southern shore of the lake for a couple of miles further before reaching West Perry where we stopped for lunch at the Harbour View restaurant. The car park was empty and there were few people around, so we were able to enjoy the best seats in the restaurant and confirm that it did, indeed, have a harbour view.

After lunch we turned south toward St Neots. Just before leaving West Perry I stopped to photograph a large map of the area. I thought this might be a useful reference in the future, so here it is:

Our route south from West perry took a route that I had not used before: a short section of private road past Littlehey Prison which took us onto a lovely narrow lane to Great Staughton. I'd happily recommend this route for future use.

A series of quiet lanes took us around Staughton Moor airfield to Bushmead where we turned east towards St Neots. On this occasion we had no need to visit the town centre so we reached Eaton Socon on the western side of St Neots we turned south and then east to cross the River Great Ouse on a new cycle bridge which had been opened only a few months ago. (Subsequent research tells me that this bridge is called the "Willow Bridge" and was opened in September this year).

The bridge itself is quite long as it needs to cross not just the river but the flood plain alongside. It is of ample width, and it was nice to see that the new cycle paths connecting to it on each side were wide and smooth as well.

This is a nice piece of new cycle infrastructure which provides a good alternative to the town bridge and which I look forward to using again. At the western edge a cycle route runs north along the river to Riverside Park. I will suggest we try it out next time we visit the cafe there.

At the eastern end of the bridge a cycle path brought us out in Eynesbury. We joined the B1046 for a short distance before turning off onto the quiet road that leads over Lily Hill to Waresley. It was now 3.15pm, and most of us stopped at the Garden Centre for coffee. About fifteen minutes later we were joined in the cafe by Jacob, who had been the only person on the afternoon ride. Steve G also joined us - he had ridden there directly.

After coffee we returned back to Cambridge along the direct route via Great Gransden, Caxton, Bourn and then along the B1046 into Cambridge. I was home by 5.30pm, having cycled 67 miles.

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Thursday, 15 December 2011

15 Dec: Thursday ride to Hare Street and Puckeridge

Edward writes: When we met at Greta's in Hauxton, it was to nobody's surprise that numbers were down considerably from our usual gatherings. In fact only six of us were ready to face the elements. It's possible, of course, that Christmas shopping had taken priority, or it may even have been the cold, drizzly and windy morning that put people off. Who knows? Anyway, nothing daunted, the six set off into Little Shelford, followed by the turning to Newton. After Newton we turned towards Fowlmere into the teeth of the wind. Fortunately we obtained some respite by taking the turning to Thriplow and gained the protection of the high hedges on this road. After going through Thriplow we went through Fowlmere and took the road to Flint Cross on the A505. This was easily the worst part of our trip. This road offers no protection and the wind was coming at an angle of about two 0'Clock, but this didn't upset Greta's speed. She seemed to be in fine form and led us at a very brisk pace up to Flint Cross. At this point one of our number left us which left us with just five riders.

After Flint Cross it was still into the wind and uphill but at least the hedgerows provided good protection and the ride wasn't too difficult. Once we got to Barley the wind didn't seem quite so vigorous and we made steady progress over this undulating stretch of road to Barkway. It was good to see the appearance of new hedge planting for a long stretch of this road, something to look forward to when it has established itself. From Barkway it didn't take too long before we arrived in Hare Street and the Tortoise cake shop for refreshments.

Unusually we were not joined by any other of our cyclists at coffee, but a group of three who had cycled up from Hertford came in just as were leaving. The next bit of the ride was by far the best of the day. The skies had cleared completely and we had blue sky and sunshine and what a difference it made to the winter scene. After leaving the coffee stop we soon turned right and took the road to Buntingford, but crossing the A10 just before the town itself, followed by the road to Aspenden. From here it was the delightfully rural trip through Westmill and Nasty, and by now we had turned and the wind was now in our favour, plus a sun-drenched countryside, cycling was suddenly a pleasure again.

From Nasty it was just a mile or two to Puckeridge and our lunch stop which became The White Hart rather than the Crown and Falcon. We decided to explore this pub as an experiment and very pleasing it was with a nice menu and very pleasant and welcoming staff.

During lunch the skies had become overcast again so it was decided to go back by staying on the B1368 all the way. With the wind on our backs we made rapid progress, especially the downhill stretch rom Barley to Flint Cross. We soon got back and the ride ended at 3 pm and having covered 47 miles. Despite the morning weather and some misgivings we agreed that the ride out had been worthwhile. As ever thanks to Greta for another good day out. Edward Elmer

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Saturday, 10 December 2011

10 Dec: Ad hoc ride to Mistley Quay

Nigel writes: Today I rode with Gareth from Cambridge to Manningtree and back. It was Gareth's idea: he was keen to to earn some Audax points and so planned this as a 200km ride under Audax rules. I was happy to tag along, not to earn any points but to gain an excuse for indulging in the club Christmas lunch the following day.

I left home at about 7.50am and cycled east out of Cambridge along the river and across the meadows to Fen Ditton, where we had planned to rendezvous at 8.15am. It had been a cold night, and I had to watch out for early-morning frost on the paths by the river, but the sky was clear and before long the sun was up and shining brightly down on us.

8.10am. Fen Ditton church bathed in morning sunshine

We set off east to Little Wilbraham (where I stopped to mend a puncture) and Six Mile Bottom from where we made the gentle but long climb to Brinkley. With a light breeze behind us and the warmth of the sun keeping us comfortable we made good progress as we continued via Carlton Green and Little Thurlow to Stradishall. Here, with 20 miles covered we stopped for breakfast at Tubby T's Cafe. Gareth ordered coffee and a bun and, rather to my surprise, asked for a receipt. He reminded me that on a DIY Audax ride like this he needed to produce proof that he had followed the route, and that submitting a cafe receipt, with location, date and time printed on it, was an easy way to do this.

I ordered beans on toast. The cafe was quiet so my breakfast was served quickly and we were soon back on our way. I agree with Gareth that when you're riding a long way it's best to avoid spending too long at the stops.

We continued east through Hawkedon and Hartest, where we climbed Hartest Hill which at more than 1 in 7 was the only significant hill of the day.

Hartest Hill - the steepest climb of the day

We continued east through Shrimpling and Bridge Street and after a short distance further we arrived in Lavenham, where Gareth made a token purchase from the co-up in order to obtain yet another receipt.

The pace so far had been comfortable, unlike the last time I rode a 200km Audax, helped no doubt by the gentle tailwind.

From Lavenham we followed the A1141 south-east to Hadleigh. Despite its A-road designation this was in fact a very quiet, pleasant road. At Hadleigh we stopped outside Greggs for a rest and for Gareth to buy another bun.

Mid-morning snack in Hadleigh

From Hadleigh we continued south-east along the B1070 to East Bergholt. We passed the sign to Flatford, reminding me that this is "Constable Country", though the only sign telling us this was the one outside the Constable Country Medical Practice. After a few more minutes we reached the bridge over the River Stour just north of Manningtree. This is the point at which an already wide river turns onto an even wider estuary, and there was definitely a feeling that we'd "reached the sea".

Crossing the River Stour at Manningtree

Close-up of Cormorant on the River Stour

After crossing the Stour we turned off towards Manningtree. This took us east along the south bank.

River Stour near Mistley with swans and a little flock of mostly sandpipers (but at least one of them is a curlew).

River Stour at Mistley

We rode through Manningtree, which I had thought of as just a railway junction but is in fact a small town and on to Mistley, where we stopped for lunch at the Mistley Quay Cafe. It was 1pm and we had covered about 57 miles: a little less than half-way.

Outside the cafe at Mistley

After lunch we set off west back for the long ride back towards Cambridge. Almost immediately Gareth began suffering from some kind of stomach cramp and was clearly in discomfort, and we made slow progress, not helped by the fact that we were riding back into the wind now. We pressed on carefully, through Dedham, Langham, Nayland and Boxted.

Track between Langham and Boxted

Near Nayland we crossed the River Stour once more. Our slow progress had meant that by now the sun was gettting low in the sky and would soon be setting.

Sunset over the (rather smaller) River Stour near Nayland

We continued west. As the sun set the full moon rose.

Full moon with a bite taken out of it. See Gareth's comment below for an explanation.

Gareth was still not 100% and although he was still riding at a very respectable pace it wasn't as fast as he would have liked and by the time we reached Bures it was quite dark. It was 3.50pm. We were now running behind schedule and there was now a definite possibility that we would not be able to complete the ride within the time permitted under Audax rules.

We stopped in a pub to warm up and discussed what to do. Gareth was clearly unwell but after briefly contemplating abandoning the ride and taking the train back from Bures (via Liverpool Street) he suggested we carry on west towards Sible Headingham and Finchingfield. We reached Finchingfield at about 5.45pm, where we stopped in The Fox for a drink and a rest. It was now clear that any hope of completing the ride had disappeared. We were going too slowly to complete the ride within Audax time limits and Gareth still wasn't feeling well. The plan had been to continue west to Saffron Walden and from there to Royston, from where we would return to Cambridge via Kneesworth. However we now agreed that we should continue to Saffron Walden and catch the train back to Cambridge.

We reached Saffron Walden at 7.35pm. The next train from Audley End was at 8pm, and I suggested to Gareth that he catch the train whilst I cycle back on my own to Cambridge. As I had rather expected, Gareth changed his mind and suggested he ride back to Cambridge with me.

Nigel resting at Saffron Walden before the final leg to Cambridge

Our mileage to this point was 103 miles, so to take things easy we eschewed our normal route via Catmere End and Coploe Hill and instead followed a fairly level route via Littlebury and Great Chesterford to Ickleton and from there along our usual route via Duxford, Whittlesford and the Shelfords back to Cambridge. I was home at 9pm, having cycled a very satisfying 120 miles. That's 193 km, so we didn't miss our 200km target by too much. Missing the Royston stop meant that Gareth's ride wouldn't qualify under Audax rules, but we were very close, and I had certainly achieved my own goal which was to allow me to eat a large Christmas lunch the next day without guilt. Gareth recovered from the ride and was able to be there as well.

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