Sunday, 3 June 2012

3 Jun: "Challenging" all-day ride to Hinxworth, Whitwell and Shepreth

Nigel writes: The club had two all-day rides today. In addition to the normal ride, which is graded as "moderate" under Rupert's new classification, we had a separate "challenging" ride, for those who wanted to go slightly further, and perhaps slightly faster. The "moderate" ride was due to depart at 9am as usual, led by Adrian. The "challenging" ride, led by Gareth, departed a little earlier, at 8.30am, led by Gareth. I decided to join Gareth on the longer ride.

The weather today - the day of the Queen's Jubilee Pageant in London - was distinctly unpromising, with a forecast of rain for more or less the whole day. I wasn't surprised to discover that Gareth and I were the only takers for the 8.30 ride.

We set off west out of Cambridge along Barton Road to Barton, where we turned right onto the B1046 to Comberton and Toft. There was a light drizzle, which was remain for the whole day: occasionally stopping but always returning. Gareth set a brisk though not especially fast pace, helped by a slight tailwind. As we rode through Toft we noticed dozens of dressed scarecrows in front gardens and at the side of the road: it was the Toft Scarecrow festival.

Royal cyclists at the Toft Scarecrow Festival

Toft Scarecrow Festival

We continued west to Longstowe and on to Gamlingay. In all the villages we passed today, Union Flags and signs of Jubilee celebrations were much in evidence, and everyone we exchanged greetings with along the way seemed in a cheery mood, despite (perhaps because of) the rain.

At Gamlingay we turned south and continued through Potton, Sutton, Dunton and Edworth until we reached Hinxworth, where we stopped for coffee at Farrowby Farm. It was only about 10.45am, and we had ridden 35 miles. We entered and ordered coffee and cake, which we enjoyed whilst dripping slowly on the (tiled) floor.

Morning coffee at Farrowby Farm, Hinxworth

After about half an hour we set off again. As we left the farm we met Adrian and the "moderate" all-day ride, who had clearly made good progress as well despite a later start. Inevitably the rain had kept the number of riders low. Those who did turn out deserve an honourable mention: Mick C, Neil, Paul and of course Adrian. Later I heard that John S also arrived shortly afterwards.

Meeting the "Moderate" ride at Hinxworth

We retraced our route back through Hinxworth to Edworth, where we crossed over the A1 to Langford. We continued though Clifton and Shefford where we turned south towards our lunch stop. This was now completely new ground for me. We rode though unfamilar villages such as Meppershall and Shillington to a place called Pegsdon, and the flat Bedfordshire Landscape gradually became hilly. At Hexton we climbed Gravel Hill (155m). I engaged my small front gear for the first time in months, and the chain fell off. At the top of the hill we found ourself riding along a short section of the Icknield Way.

We continued south to Lilley, crossed over the A505 and along a slight valley called Lilley Bottom. I think it was along here that we encountered a small flood. I rode through cautiously but it wasn't deep, and Gareth followed.

Flooding at Lilley Bottom

We continued along the same road for several more miles. An aeroplane passed overhead, audible but invisible in the low cloud, and reminding us that the runway at Luton Airport was only about three miles away.

We arrived at Whitwell just after 1pm, with 54 miles on the odometer. Our planned lunch stop was at Emily's Cafe, which we had discovered through the local CTC group. This has the feel of a farm cafe, with old farm equipment nearby and a pen of chickens opposite.

Outside Emily's cafe, Whitwell

Neither of has been here before, and I'm pleased to report that it is very nice. A simple menu including jacket potatoes and toasted sandwiches, plenty of cakes, and a friendly welcome. A cycling magazine was at the top of the magazine rack, and we weren't the only cyclists in there. Gareth chose a table next to a radiator and again we dripped gently on the tiled floor.

Emily's cafe, Whitwell

Emily's cafe, Whitwell

After an hour we set off again. It was 2pm. Our next planned stop was Shepreth, about 25 miles to the north-east. Gareth's route was almost a straight line: through Little Wymondley and Willian (expertly avoiding Hitchin, Stevenage and Letchworth despite their being very close) to Baldock. From here we continued to Bygrave and Ashwell. This section is quite undulating, and there was a steady headwind, and I began to flag. Gareth through was still riding strongly. Fortunately we were soon back at the border with Cambridgeshire and some easier gradients.

After riding through Steeple Morden, Litlington, Bassingbourn, Kneesworth and Meldreth we arrived at Shepreth where we stopped for tea at the Teacake Cafe. It was 4pm. I think this quite new cafe is becoming a club favourite, and as always we were given a friendly welcome. I ordered a hot chocolate and my third cake of the day and sat down. Fortunately this cafe had a tiled floor too. Adrian soon arrived with the "other" all-day ride and a few minutes later Jacob with a small group of afternoon riders. More honourable mentions to Jacob, Tiia, Tina and John F.

Setting off from Teacake Cafe, Shepreth

Afterward we returned back to Cambridge via Barrington, Haslingfield and Barton. Gareth was clearly still full of energy and disappeared into the distance but I was happy to take a more gentle pace over Chapel Hill with Tiia and Jacob. As we rode along the drizzle increased in intensity so I was glad that I didn't have far to go. I arrived home at 5.45pm, having cycled exactly 90 miles. Thank you to Gareth for leading the ride and for planning an excellent and appropriate route.

View this GPS track on a larger map

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for joining me. If not for you, I would probably have gone back to bed, which would have been a waste.

    I based the route in part on a ride that Mike Stapledon led in August 2008. It was only the third all-day ride I went on, but I have always remembered climbing Gravel Hill south of Hexton (a last eastern outpost of the Chilterns), and I was impressed by his clever route around the outskirts of Letchworth, which I have used several times when cycling to west London or Southampton. It is very nice to be able to go back and ride these roads again, even in the rain. There are more nice hills to the south of Whitwell which I hope we can visit on some sunnier day.