Nick writes: Using a combination of fast and slow trains seven riders including our guest rider Simon, made their way down to Kings Cross at the start of a scorchingly hot day. The slow train contingent of Nick, Simon and John F found Richard, Mike CC and John E sipping their lattes in a café. We also meet up with Ian Driver who had made his own way there and after a quick restock of goodies set off up Pentonville Road.
Ready to head off from Kings Cross (picture David Marsh)
This is a busy but simple stretch of road up to the Angel and after a mile we turned into a leafy side road. One hundred metres later we said goodbye to roads altogether and for the next 22 miles rode the towpaths up to Nazing. It is incredible that we can be that close to the madness of London traffic but actually be in such a tranquil setting. In rush hour the towpath can be packed with commuters riding into their day jobs in their hot London offices but with the morning rush now passed, and the temperature still reasonable we had the prospect of a leisurely ride ahead. The surfaces in the early miles are a mixture of concrete, tarmac, and paving stones but the narrow nature of the path with its twists and turns – and a few low bridges – dictated a modest speed of travel.
Enjoying the tranquillity of urban towpaths
A nip into Victoria Park to facilitate a switch from the Regents Canal to the Hertford Union Canal was required before turning north along the River Lea Navigation. By now the paths were wider and even quieter but the gritty surface in some places kept the speeds down as we passed the Olympic park. Boats of all manner of sizes and conditions lined the waterway giving constant points of interest as the miles passed.
The 2016 Olympic (no)hopefuls
The late start (caused by the fact that we could not get into London before 10:15), the nature of the towpath and the heat meant it was always going to be a late coffee stop and it was around 12:30 after 17 miles that we pulled into the Narrow Boat Café just short of Waltham Abbey. Although there was not a large range of cakes this was a reasonably priced and convenient stop - perfect for the needs of the day.
Enjoying some shade at the Narrow Boat Café (picture David Marsh)
By now it was very clear that the planned lunchtime rendezvous with the Cambridge riders was not going to happen so we were able to be more flexible with our pace. A few hundred metres north we parted with Ian who was heading for Broxbourne. We also swapped from the straightness of the River Lea Navigation to the winding River Lea itself for a few miles before turning away from the water and across the paths through to join the roads a couple of miles south of Lower Nazing. We could have taken the peaceful cycle paths further but by now we were looking forward to the faster pace offered by the roads and we needed this if we were to make lunch at all.
Quiet B-roads and smaller country lanes led us into Roydon via the first hill of the day – quite a shock to the system after the flat towpaths. With the 2:30 deadline for food looking unlikely we decided to pull into the Fox and Hounds at Hunsdon - even though we had rejected it during planning due to it being a gastro pub. No sandwiches were available so a few bowls of chips combined with some rolls from the convenience store across the road saw us though. This is probably a nice pub for a proper meal but definitely not one to put on the list of CTC stops.
At the pleasant but expensive Fox and Hounds
The names of the villages were getting more familiar as we passed through Widford, Much and Little Hadham. The heat was also continuing to make its mark and the road surfaces melting and sticking to the wheels – this is the first time I have seen bikes leaving tracks in soft oozing bitumen. As we passed through the hamlet of Gravesend the wheels of a tractor coming the other way tore up and tossed aside large chunks of tarmac as its went along. In a bid to avoid the sticky stuff we diverted through Furneux Pelham in order to reach Stocking Pelham, making sure we did not go straight across up Violets Lane – a 1 kilometre long ford.
From there it was off to Meesden, the Langleys and Dudenhoe End before the last climbs of the day out of Elmdon. A fast decent to Chrishall Grange paved the way to Fowlmere before the group split and David and I headed for Meldreth leaving the others to finish off the last few miles to Cambridge. It seemed that we had ridden a lot more than the 60 miles on the clock. A ride that is definitely worth repeating – the logistics and route are simple and pleasant - although possibly better on a weekend when it is possible to get the bikes into London for an earlier start. Nick Jones
View this GPS track (from King's Cross as far as Meldreth) on a larger map (track by David Marsh)