Nigel writes: With temperatures approaching 30C earlier in the week I had been somewhat apprehensive about today's all-day ride, but fortunately this weekend has offered us a brief respite from the heat. After a cool and cloudy Saturday, Sunday started equally cloudy and with the temperature at 9am a very comfortable 18C. At Brookside I found James, on his second or third ride with us, and antipodean visitors Rod and Karyn who had tried us out on yesterday's introductory ride and were keen on something longer. We were soon joined by Ian, Tom, Paul, Neil and Gareth and after a few minutes getting guest entry forms completed we set off. I was the leader today (which is why I had been worried abut the heat), and led the group west out of Cambridge along the Barton Road cycleway to Barton.
Gareth had earlier told me that he would be going ahead of the main group, and he was quickly disappearing into the distance. The remainder of us carried on at a steady pace along the B1046 to Bourn and then along quieter roads to Caxton, Great Gransden and Waresley. We rode past the garden centre (where I spotted a lone cyclist waiting for the cafe to open) to Everton and then down the hill through the woods to Sandy.
At Sandy we joined the NCN 51 cycleway which leads along a disused railway line (but is nevertheless remarkably wiggly and complicated) towards Bedford. At Willington, about 28 miles from Cambridge, we stopped for coffee at the Danish Camp cafe.
The cafe at Danish Camp is in a lovely location with a terrace and large grassy area leading down to the River Great Ouse. Unfortunately service is quite slow and with our arrival the queue soon built up. After about ten minutes we were served (at least this place is not expensive) and sat outside with our drinks and cakes. Already at the cafe were Adrian and Doug, and after a while we were joined by David W.
Afterwards we carried on west towards our lunchstop. David joined our group and Neil left it to return home. After such a long stage to coffee I decided we should take a direct route to lunch. This meant we had no choice but to ride through the middle of Bedford. This is nicer than it sounds: NCN 51 continues along the river right into the centre of Bedford, but to get out the other side requires abandoning the wiggly NCN 51 and cycling for couple of miles along the main Kempston Road. This was straightforward enough and soon we were out of the town and back in the country. We rejoined NCN 51 again (now just a series of signposts) and followed it through Wooton to Marston Moretaine where we stopped for lunch at the Forest Centre in the country park.
The Forest Centre is huge with a large cafe, plenty of staff, and in contrast to Danish Camp are well able to handle the large numbers of visitors expected on a summer weekend. The menu and prices are good too. We ordered our food and sat outside. The weather was gradually warming up but it was still cloudy and the temperature was still very comfortable.
Marston Moretaine marked the westerly limit of today's ride, and after lunch we set off east towards our planned tea stop. This took us into a light headwind but it was no problem and with the clouds beginning to clear and the temperatures beginning to rise a cooling breeze in our faces was not unwelcome.
We rode round the edge of the country park to rejoin the road on the eastern side at Millbrook Station. There's really only one sensible route east from here and we followed it through Houghton Conquest and Haynes to Southill. Along the way we met Mike S coming in the other direction and he turned around to join us.
At Southill there are a couple of options to Langford and the A1 crossing; I chose to go via Broom and past the Jordans Mill at Holme. We continued east and crossed over the A1 before turning off for the final few miles through Hinxworth to Ashwell, whose church tower offered a welcome landmark from several miles away. At Ashwell we stopped for tea at the Parish Church Room. It was 3.45pm.
At the Parish Church Room we were welcomed by the friendly volunteers who occasionally open the room for teas to raise funds for the village church. We had told them we were coming and they are clearly very happy to provide refreshments to hungry cyclists (indeed they proclaim exactly this on their website). A group of cyclists from CTC Stevenage had passed through earlier in the afternoon but there were plenty of cakes left. The portions were generous, and with a cake and a cup of tea costing £2.50 were very good value.
By about 4.45pm we got ready to set off for home, somewhat concerned that the afternoon ride had not arrived yet. Fortunately Tina arrived just before we left, followed by a large group of thirsty riders which had been delayed by a puncture along the way. We assured them that there was plenty of cake left if they were quick, and set off for home.
We took a fairly direct route via Steeple Morden, Litlington and Bassingbourn to Kneesworth where we crossed over the A1198. From there we continued through Meldreth and Shepreth to Barrington. A final climb over Chapel Hill brought us to Haslingfield and the final few miles along the Barton Road cycle track back to Cambridge.
When we reached the cycle crossing at the end of Barton Road I said my goodbyes and left the group to head home via the cycle path that leads across the commons to Trumpington Road. This took me past the playground and paddling pool on Lammas Land - and the adjacent refreshment kiosk. I decided to stop and have an ice cream. The friendly staff there noticed my CTC top (and probably my beaming expression) and asked me the question which every touring cyclist loves to be asked: "how far have you cycled?". I was then asked the inevitable follow-up, which is a request for confirmation: "you cycled all that way today?".
Feeling suitably pleased with myself, I sat on the grass for five minutes to eat my ice cream. The day that had started cool and cloudy had turned onto a very nice sunny afternoon, with the temperature now 25C, which whilst hot was still comfortable. I then got back on the bike for the final mile of my journey. I arrived back home at 6.50pm, having cycled 88 miles.
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