Nigel writes: It was 22nd July, but today felt like the first day of Summer. After months of cold, wet weather the Jetstream has at last moved north to its proper place and we can now begin to enjoy some decent weather. The forecast was for warmth and sunshine all day, so I was pleased that today's all-day ride looked like a relatively long one, with some interesting new stops along the way.
As would be expected there was a large turnout at Brookside for today's ride. Our leader today was Mick, who led us west out of Cambridge along the Barton Road cycleway to Barton, where we rejoined the road and turned onto the B1046 to Comberton, Toft and Bourn. Gareth set off ahead of the group at a brisk pace and I followed behind. Gareth was in the mood to ride at his own speed rather than wait for the others, and I was too, and by the time we reached Toft the others were out of sight behind us.
With Gareth at the front most of the time we continued through Caxton, Great Gransden, Abbotsley (taking a slightly longer route than the normal one via Waresley) to Everton. Instead of the usual route via Sandy we turned right and sped down Everton Hill to cross the A1 at Tempsford.
When we reached Blunham we turned onto the NCR 51 railway path towards Bedford.
Our coffee stop today was the cafe at Danish Camp. This is at Willington, right next to the cycle path. Neither of had been there before so we rode right past it before realising what we had done. When we eventually found the cafe we were pleased to discover that this is a rather nice timber building in an attractive location next to the River Great Ouse. A cycle hire place was adjacent.
The cafe was large and looked an excellent place to have lunch, though on this occasion I ordered just a coffee and a pastry, Danish of course.
Already at the cafe was Doug, Mike S and Brian, and a few moments later Martin arrived, all of whom had made their own way there.
About fifteen minutes later we were joined by Mick and the rest of the ride. Since we had already finished our coffee Gareth and I were ready to go, so after briefly discussing the route with Mick the two of us set off on our own.
Our lunch stop was about ten miles further west, also on NCR 51, so we could follow Sustrans signposting all the way. This took us along the Ouse right into the middle of Bedford. It was the Bedford River Festival this weekend and there were lots of people about, but the cycle path was still open and we were able to ride through carefully.
Once in the middle of Bedford the NCR 51 signposts took us north over the river on a road bridge, west along the north bank for a mile, and then back south across a pedestrian and cycle bridge.
We followed the busy B531 west out of Bedford and out into the countryside again. The NCR 51 signs took us along some quiet roads through Wooton and under the A421 to Marston Moretaine. We turned into Marston Vale Millenium Country Park and stopped for lunch at the Forest Centre. This is a very big visitor and conference centre with a large restaurant with lots of tables outside in the sunshine.
Here we found a large group from South Herts CTC, whom we had arranged to meet here. It was now about 1.30pm and they were getting ready to ride back home to St Albans, but Mick and the main group arrived before they departed and we were able to exchange brief pleasantries before sending them on their way.
This restaurant was another place we hadn't visited before, and I can report that it is excellent, with a good menu, plenty of space both inside and outside, and with friendly efficient staff. I had a jacket potato and beans, followed by a huge portion of carrot cake (rather larger than I would have liked, not that it stopped me eating the lot).
After lunch we all set off together. Although I had enjoyed riding a bit more quickly with Gareth I was looking forward to a bit of sociable cycling with the others.
However there was a bit of confusion over the best way out of the park, and by the time Gareth and I reached the exit by Millbrook Station the others were nowhere to be seen. So yet again Gareth and I found ourselves riding on our own for the third leg to tea.
We had faced a bit of a headwind before lunch, but now we were heading back east and had the wind behind us. From Millbrook Station we rode a mile and a half to Millbrook itself before turning to Houghton Conquest. Here we climbed (or plodded in my case) up a short, steep, hill which took us onto the Greensand Ridge.
Now we had a tailwind we made rapid progress through Haynes Church End, Southill and Broom to Langford, where we crossed back over the A1 to Edworth. After a few more miles we arrived in Ashwell. Here we stopped for tea at St Mary's Church Hall.
Just as Gareth and I sat down with our tea and cakes the afternoon ride arrived, and a few minutes after that the rest of the all-day ride turned up.
After tea our combined group set off back to Cambridge. There must have been over twenty of us.
Inevitably this large group began to string out along the road. Gareth sped off ahead and was soon disappearing into the distance. This time I didn't try to stay behind him, but followed behind with Tiia and some others. With over 70 miles behind me at this stage I was beginning to flag so was happy to let Tiia set the pace for the next few miles through Steeple Morden, Litlington, Needingworth, Meldreth and Shepreth to Barrington, where we climbed Chapel Hill. We paused for a rest at the top, which I found surprisingly restorative, and I increased my pace (still assisted by the wind, I should add) for the final miles through Haslingfield and Barton back to Cambridge.
When we reached the edge of Cambridge, whilst Rupert and others rushed back home to see the highlights of The Tour on TV, I stopped for a ice cream from the kiosk on Lammas Land. I was home by 6.30pm, having cycled 92 miles.
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