Sunday, 29 July 2012

29 Jul: "Challenging" All-day ride to Finchingfield, Stisted and Horseheath

Nigel writes: Today was the third Sunday this summer when, in addition to the normal all-day ride, the club arranged a longer and slightly faster version for those who were looking for something slightly more challenging. Gareth has been the leader of all of these longer rides, and the club is grateful to him for doing so. Support for these rides is steadily increasing: on 3rd June there were two of us, on 17th June there were three, and today there were four: Gareth, Tony, James and me

We set off from Brookside at the slightly earlier time of 8.30am. It was a gorgeous warm morning with a clear sky and bright sunshine, though there was rain forecast for the afternoon. The speed was high from the start, which meant I didn't have any opportunity to sprint ahead to take photos.

Gareth's strategy when planning a long ride is to take a direct route to get away from Cambridge as quickly as possible. Today wasn't the day to dally on lanes we had ridden many times before. Instead Gareth led us south to Trumpington and Great Shelford where we turned right onto the road to Whittlesford, Duxford and Ickleton. Here, instead of climbing Coploe Hill, we stayed on the flat and took the road to Great Chesterford. We joined the B1383 to Littlebury before switching to the B184 into Saffron Walden. Although these roads can be quite busy, at 9am on a Sunday they were very quiet. Saffron Walden would be where the normal all-day ride would stop for coffee today, but we passed through without stopping and carried on along the B1053 to Radwinter, Great Sampford and Finchingfield, which we reached at about 10.15am. We stopped for coffee at Boswell's Tea Room.

Another of Gareth's strategies for a long ride is to avoid spending too much time at the stops, so we were soon back on our bikes and on our way. Now that we had got some useful miles behind us the pace relaxed slightly, and we even stopped briefly to inspect the "Cave" (a medieval lock-up) in Great Bardfield.

I won't describe the route to Lunch in detail: it is shown on the map below. It took us south, past the airfield at Great Saling (below), to Felsted.

From Felsted we turned east, passing well south of Braintree before turning north once more to our planned Lunch stop at Specialities Tea Rooms in Stisted, which we reached at 12.15pm.

This was our first visit to Specialities Tea Rooms, but it had been much praised by Essex CTC and it seemed well worth a visit. I am pleased to report that it is excellent. The menu seemed perfect for cyclists, offering sandwiches, light meals (I chose beans on toast) and a varied array of cakes. The proprietor, who is clearly keen on cycling himself, gave us a warm welcome and excellent service. Stisted itself is a tiny and very quiet village: we ate our lunch sitting outside in the sunshine; the only disturbance was when a combine harvester drove past.

We were just finishing our lunch and preparing to leave when Tom and the main all-day ride appeared.

It was a little after 1pm when we set off again. We continued north, passing to the east of Halsted before turning west to Little and Great Maplestead. A short while later Gareth took us along a narrow and very rustic road to Sible Headingham that he and I discovered last winter and rode along in darkness.

From Sible Headingham the roads became more familar, taking us through Toppesfield, Stambourne and Birdbook to Steeple Bumpstead.

James rides through the ford at Steeple Bumpstead. Compare with this photo taken 14 days ago

From Steeple Bumpstead it was a short distance through Helions Bumpstead and the Camps to Horseheath, which we reached at 3.30pm. Here we stopped at the Old Red Lion Inn. Tea was planned for 4.30pm, so we had an hour to wait, but our early arrival allowed us to avoid the rain which had just arrived and, more importantly, allowed us to watch the final ten minutes of the Olympic Games Women's Road Race and see Lizzie Armitstead win a Silver medal in pouring rain.

After a pleasant and relaxing hour the main all-day ride arrived and at about the same time Peter D arrived with the afternoon ride, and a excellent tea of sandwiches, roast potatoes and cakes arrived.

After tea we all returned to Cambridge.

Most people took the direct route via Balsham, though Gareth, Tony, James and I were keen to push the ride to over 100 miles to took a longer route via Carlton, Brinkley, Dullingham, Swaffham Bulbeck and Bottisham. We could see rain in the distance but miraculously we stayed dry for the whole ride back. I arrived back home in Cambridge at 6.55pm, feeling surprisingly strong after having cycled 107 miles. I'd like to thank Gareth yet again for leading a very satisfying and enjoyable ride.

View this GPS track on a larger map

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