Thursday, 9 May 2013

9 May: Thursday ride to Croydon and Old Warden

Rupert writes: We were all getting used to the warm sunny weather, but we should have known it wouldn't last. Today gales and rain was forecast, but despite the bad forecast we still mustered a magnificent 10 riders at the start in Haslingfield. Adrian was our leader today and our planned route was a long haul west into the wind. Four Thursday stalwarts are away in France this week which meant that the "curious incident of the football manager in the night" could pass without much comment and were able to discuss those more important non-football matters, such as the weather (again!).

The official start photo (Photo: Sue Howell)

Once again, my anticipation of a nice easy ride to coffee was thwarted as Adrian led us east to Harston and then the loop via Newton, Thriplow and Fowlmere to Meldreth. But this being Adrian's lead, he snuck in a first simple off-road section along Harcamlow Way from Whaddon to Ermine Street (aka the A.1198). From there it was just a short loop via Wendy to our new coffee stop at The Queen Adelaide pub in Croydon where Mike and Doug were waiting. The pub was very welcoming, with two big jugs of coffee and a large pot of tea. This a welcome new addition to our stops - thanks to Eddie who discovered it.

Coffee at The Queen Adelaide (Photo: Sue Howell)

After coffee we retraced our route back to Croydon Hill (Adrian apparently unaware of unwritten rule 57d, the "no retracing of routes" rule). The group seemed to struggle to ascend this alpine pimple suggesting that some our "Tour de France" training might be running a bit behind schedule this year. From there we headed to Sandy via Gamlingay, turning down the chance for another gamble with Network Rail at the Tempsford rail crossing (and thus maintaining a 100% success rate). A first band of rain duly arrived around midday along with a strengthening wind, but the rain soon passed and patchy sun returned.

Adrian opted for a lesser used crossing of the A.1 going past Sandy station to cross to Beeston. Lesser used for good reason: it is a nasty exposed junction on the dual carriageway. But good fortune favoured the brave today, with a welcome lull in the traffic letting us cross relatively easily. From there we had a just a few miles via Northill to our lunch stop at Shuttleworth airfield, where we were met by a couple of local riders Richard and Bob. The Shuttleworth cafe was quiet today: no queues, just a few troublesome cyclists who still managed to cause problems for the staff by ordering too many jacket potatoes. Sadly there were none of the usual light aircraft movements to watch - probably due to the high winds.

Lunch at Old Warden (Photo: Bill Perry)

If I'd been paying more attention I might have noticed the glint in Adrian's eyes over lunch as he casually mentioned there might be "a little bit more off-road" on the way home. It all started innocently enough: we set off across the airfield, to find the gate locked so we had to lift our bikes over the gate to escape. From there we headed due east, first along the airfield road, but then following a bridleway straight towards the A.1. The official bridleway route goes straight across the A.1, but the secret Adrian route used an surprising and novel crossing via a set of cycle tunnels.

The A1 tunnels (secret route)

The tunnels are actually large pipes that look like storm/flood drains but today were completely dry and are just high enough to cycle through if you leaned down. After a small wriggle to rejoin the bridleway, we continued east to finally emerge near to the centre of Biggleswade.

We were all very impressed by this new route, and duly emboldened, Adrian led us across Biggleswade and onto the next off-road section. We once again turned down a road marked "no through road" but such madness now seemed quite normal and sure enough we emerged onto another bridleway heading north to the RSPB reserve at Sandy Warren. It a lovely change of scenery here, but the sandy tracks make for harder riding and the combination of tree roots and sand forced most of us to dismount for the hilly section up into the reserve. But we were soon on our way again, eventually emerging past the HQ building onto the main road. Turn right and it's a straight route home I thought. Our leader had other ideas, heading straight across the road onto yet another off-road section following an indirect zig-zag set of tracks past the TV transmitter to finally emerge back on the next road near Potton.

The Sandy Hill into the RSBP reserve (Photo: Rupert Goodings)

From there we finally stayed on the tarmac, heading north to Waresley with just a brief stop to say hello to some friendly donkeys (I hope you notice how I've avoided the obvious joke here). At Waresley, we wisely deciding to skip afternoon tea in favour of getting home ahead of the rain.

Donkeys near Gamlingay (Photo: Rupert Goodings)

After plenty of excitement for the day we started to relaxed a bit too much. Our one mishap happened when we were nearly home, as we detoured via Caxton End and two riders slipped on the slimy green surface at the ford, getting muddy clothing, damaged egos and a few nasty scrapes. After taking so much care on the off-road sections, it all seemed a little unfair to be toppled by slimy tarmac!

Our thanks to Adrian for a enjoyable change from the usual on-road routes. As a novel summer crossing of the A.1, the cycle tunnels were a particular delight in these dry conditions. I cycled a total of 72 miles, including my usual 8 miles to the start at Haslingfield.

Lastly, two morals from this story. When Adrian warns of "a little bit" of off-road, he probably means "a lottle". But he'll also reveal delightful new routes that you didn't even know existed. And "caveat cyclor" when you are heading home: avoid that Caxton End ford - even if it looks dry! Rupert Goodings

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