Sunday, 17 June 2012

17 Jun: "Challenging" all-day ride to Clare, Bury St Edmunds and Newmarket

Nigel writes: This week we had the second of our "challenging" all-day Sunday rides, held in addition to our normal "moderate" ride. The weather was much better than the previous ride: warm and sunny, but quite windy, which led to a 50% increase in turnout for the 8.30am start: Gareth, David W and me.

With the weather looking good for the day, I was hoping for a decent mileage today, and I think Gareth had the same idea. So with little ado Gareth set off out east of Cambridge the most direct way possible: down Hills Road and Cherry Hinton Road. At 8.30am on a Sunday there was hardly any traffic around. We continued along the same road to Fulbourn and then on to Balsham. Gareth was on strong form again and set a strong pace at the head of our little peloton. A strong tailwind help blow us at some speed though West Wickham, Withersfield and Kedington.

Changing maps in Kedington

After Kedington we continued on to Clare, which we reached at a satisfyingly early 10.15am. This was where we planned to stop for coffee, but although Clare has several tea shops it was apparently too early for any of them to be open, and so we bought some snacks from the co-op and sat in the sunshine Clare Country Park to enjoy them.

Mid-morning picnic in Clare Country Park

After half an hour in Clare we set off once more. Gareth's route took us north to our lunch stop in Bury St Edmunds along an endless series of lovely narrow lanes that I had never visited before, an dincluding what was my first ascent of Hartest Hill for quite a long time.

A couple of miles East of Shrimpling Street gareth took us off-road along a public footpath which ran around a disused airfield. (I later discovered that this was the remains of Lavenham/Alpheton Airfield. More about its wartime past here (pdf)). It was perfectly cycleable though rather potholed, and Gareth found himself with a puncture.

Mending a puncture on the remains of Lavenham/Alpheton Airfield

We continued north along yet more tiny lanes, finally to approach Bury St Edmunds from the east. Our final mile or so into the city was along a newly-improved bridleway along the River Lark. Although it wasn't tarmac and slightly sandy it was perfectly cycleable and really rather nice. This met NCR51 coming from the east which we followed for the final few hundred yards - this took us right through the cathedral grounds, a lovely way to arrive.

Well-surfaced bridleway leading into Bury St Edmunds

We found a branch of Greggs near the Cathedral and purchased our lunch. I bought a sandwich, a coffee, and the most notorious hot snack of the year, a Greggs Cornish pasty (served hot, of course). Returning towards Abbey Gardens we met Adrian and a large contingent on the "moderate" all-day ride. They went off to the Queen's Head for lunch whilst Gareth, David, me and later Neil sat in the park eating our lunch.

Artwork "Godspeed" by Jonathan Clark, in the grounds of St Edmundsbury Cathedral, and featured on the cover of the local OS map

After lunch we set off towards Newmarket. Neil joined our group whilst David left it. Riding west for the first time we were now riding into a headwind, which reduced our speed somewhat though we got used to it soon enough and it wasn't much of a problem. Gareth's route was fairly direct: south to Whepstead, west to Chevington and Ousden, north to Dalham and Gazeley (where we passed Zhiqing), and finally west through Moulton to enter Newmarket by descending the long hill in between the training grounds.

Dalham to Gazeley

We arrived at Coffee & Co at 3.45pm and ordered out drinks and cakes. Over the following twenty minutes we were joined by Mike S, the other all-day riders, and the afternoon ride, making a total of nineteen at tea.

Coffee in newmarket

Coffee in Newmarket

After coffee Gareth, Neil and I set off for our final stage to Cambridge. Gareth and I were both keen to make today a 100-mile day. We had covered 77 miles so far, so we needed to make a bit of a loop on the way home. Gareth's route took us north to Exning. As my request we followed NCR 51 out of Newmarket, which I had never tried before. This runs parallel to the dreary Exning Road, and was surprisingly good.

We continued from Exning to Burwell where we turned north towards Wicken Fen.

Wicken Fen

At Wicken we turned west to Upware and then south back across the fens to Lode.

Across the fens south of Upware

Approaching Lode

At Lode we joined the main road back to Quy and then the familar route through Fen Ditton and the Jubilee Cycleway back into Cambridge.

Ditton Meadows, Cambridge

Cycle route obstructed on Ditton Meadows, Cambridge

I arrived home at 6.45pm having cycled an excellent and very enjoyable 105 miles, making this my second-longest ride of the year so far. Thanks are due to Gareth for leading an excellent ride along through some of East Anglia's loveliest countryside.

View this route on a larger map


  1. Good work finding the identity of Lavenham/Alpheton airfield. There's loads more about the airfield at the website of the USAAF 487th Bomb Group (Heavy) including a detailed base diagram.

    1. it was lovely to see you guys at Dalham. I was loitering around to find deers and I did not see any. I went home through the same route as you did although it was near eight o'clock. I saw a fox, dancing rabbits and a hare. So I am really happy.