Sunday, 29 September 2013

29 Sep: All-day ride to Stradishall, Long Melford and West Wratting

Paul writes: Four members gathered at Brookside on what promised to be an ideal day weather-wise, albeit with a gentle-to-moderate easterly breeze.

Our route took the direct road to Balsham along which we were joined by Rupert. We then continued via West Wickham, Carlton Green, and the familiar route through Little Thurlow to Adam's café (formerly Tubby T's) near Stradishall where we stopped for coffee. Several other members were already gathered there.

After coffee three of the original group returned home but we were joined by three others for the next stage of the ride which took us along a series of very pleasant undulating country lanes through Farley Green, Denston, Stansfield, Thurston End, Glemsford and Liston before stopping for lunch in Long Melford.

On the way back near Ashen

Suitably 'fed and watered' our return ride followed a more southerly route, substantially benefiting from what was now a tailwind, via Borley, Bovingdon House, Belchamps Otten, St Paul, Ashen (see photo) and Ridgewell. We continued via Finkle Green and Old Hall to Steeple Bumpstead where we found the road totally impassable - even to bikes and pedestrians - due to bridge building works.

We were running rather short of time so we took a direct route to tea at West Wratting via The Camps, Horseheath and West Wickham where we found a large group of "afternoon riders" already present.

For the final stage of the ride home route home I rode with a subgroup of six via Six Mile Bottom, Dunsley Corner, Fen Ditton, Baits Bite Lock after which Mike CC and I concluded a very pleasant days ride Impington and Oakington. Total distance 90 miles. Paul Dover

29 Sep: A ride from the Bay to the Ocean

Nigel writes: Another work trip to Silicon Valley in California gave me the opportunity to hire a top-class road bike today and go for an 80-mile loop in the Santa Cruz mountains which turned out to be one of the toughest rides I've ever done.

I spent an afternoon cycling in this area almost exactly a year ago, on my last visit. My report of that ride can be read here. Today's ride started from the same bike shop as last time, The Bike Connection in Palo Alto, where I paid $38 (£24) to rent a lightweight carbon-fibre road bike for 24 hours.

My hire bike, probably the lightest I've ever ridden

Last time I managed a 40-mile ride which took me from Palo Alto, west over the Santa Cruz mountains, down the other side and then back again. Today I had a rather longer ride planned which I hoped would allow me visit both the San Francisco bay to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, as well as the mountains which lie in between.

The first few miles were along quiet suburban streets in prosperous Palo Alto, many of them with cycle lanes despite having very little traffic.

Cycle lane in Palo Alto

Between Palo Alto and the San Francisco Bay runs an eight-lane freeway, US 101. This is something of a barrier for both cyclists and pedestrians, but I was able to find a subway which allowed me to pass under it safely.

Subway (with chicanes) under US 101

Between the freeway and the bay is an area of flat wetlands known as the Baylands Nature Reserve, cross-crossed with a network of wide paths surfaced with compacted stones.

Baylands Park on the shore of San Francisco Bay

I followed the shore north for a few miles, riding slowly and carefully because the rough, loose surface was not the ideal terrain for a lightweight road bike with slick tyres. Fortunately I was soon out of the park and back on smooth tarmac. I turned west and then north again through the less-salubrious streets of East Palo Alto (which is actually a separate city) until I found myself at a complex of office buildings that I had visited a few years ago before the present occupants moved in.

Facebook HQ on the shore in Menlo Park.

The Facebook (formerly Sun Microsystems) campus lies on the edge of the bay, and I rode around the perimeter on a public cycle path. After that it was time to say goodbye to the bay and head towards the ocean. I turned west, rode back through Palo Alto, and it wasn't long before I was out of the city and climbing through redwood forest into the mountains.

Climbing King's Mountain Road

I soon discovered that my bike wasn't as low-geared as I had hoped, and I found the ascent to 600m harder work than it had been last year. I had to stop several times to allow my legs to recover from the effort of pushing the pedals harder than was comfortable.

Eventually I reached the top of the ridge and paused for a longer rest, in the company of several other cyclists doing the same thing.

At Skyline (the summit ridge) before the descent towards the Ocean

Having earned 600m of elevation, it was now time to recklessly spend it, and I continued west down the mountain towards the Pacific. This was a particularly narrow and pretty road.

Descending Tunitas Creek Road towards the Ocean

After about ten miles of mostly downhill cycling I reached the Pacific Ocean near the village of San Gregorio. It was now about 2.30pm and I stopped on some low cliffs above the beach to have a late lunch. There I chatted to a couple of other cyclists, one of whom kindly took my photo.

Pacific Ocean at San Gregorio

After lunch I got back on the bike and followed the coast south for about eight miles. This took me along the Cabrillo Highway (US route 1), the busiest road of the day.

Cycling the Cabrillo Highway south along the coast

After about half an hour of spectacular coastal riding I turned east off US 1 and onto the quiet and pretty Pescado Creek Road. This took me through the little town of Pescado where I stopped for a drink and some more food before continuing east. The road began to climb and after about ten miles I turned onto Alpine Road for a further climb up to almost 720m.

Climbing Alpine Road back up to Skyline

This would have always been a punishing ascent but my end-of-day tiredness and the lack of a really low gear made the climb a gruelling ordeal, with me wondering whether I would be able to complete it. I decided that the only way to complete the climb was to take it really slowly, and every time my Garmin altimeter showed I had climbed 20m I paused for a two-minute rest.

Eventually I reached the top. It was about 6.30pm. Sunset was only half an hour away and since I didn't have any lights I set off straight down the other side for the 10m descent down Page Mill Road to Palo Alto.

The top of the 10-mile descent to Palo Alto (the sign referred to now-completed resurfacing)

Despite my tiredness and my concern about the declining daylight this was an exhilarating 2000+ foot descent down a wide, smoothly-surfaced road with a well-engineered series of hairpin bends. There was almost no other traffic, so I was able to use the whole width of the road to take the bends enjoyably quickly. I arrived back at the bike shop in Palo Alto at about 7.30pm, having cycled the toughest and hilliest 80 miles I have ever done. And, of course, given a slightly more suitable bike, I'd love to do it again.

See elevation profile below.

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Thursday, 26 September 2013

26 Sep: Thursday ride to Newport and Great Saling

Edward writes: Last Thursday we thought that summer had deserted us as those who came out rode in wet and cooler than average temperatures. Today, however, in total contrast the day broke with sun and blue skies and an almost negligible wind thus making for another great day on our bikes. It must have been good as nineteen assembled in Hauxton for our ride out to Andrews airfield at Great Saling which isn't far from Braintree. Amongst the nineteen were some new faces and we welcome them all, including Roz and James, Craig and Peter who was making his second trip with us. Also good to see out was Steve who was making a rare, but welcome, Thursday ride.


Today’s leader was David Mr and after a team photo we set off by way of Little Shelford, Newton, Thriplow, Fowlmere and then the A505.


After travelling through Chrishall Grange we all made our way up the long climb to the Elmdon turning where we waited to bring the group together. From this high point in the county we passed into Elmdon and then out to join the Royston to Saffron Walden road which then delivered us to Wendons Ambo.



Some narrow roads in Wendens Ambo took us over the railway and onto the main road for the one mile run into Newport and our coffee and cake stop at Dorrington’s. The staff were very efficient and it didn’t take long for everybody to be served and enjoy a very pleasant half hour out in the sun.


After coffee, as so often is the case a number of riders left us but we were joined by Geoff, Peter W and Barbara. This made twenty three riders altogether as Mike B had joined us in Thriplow, no doubt all thinking that there wouldn’t be too many more days like this. This still left us with about sixteen to carry on for the full journey into the Essex countryside. We left Newport and climbed again before descending to the Debden turning and now followed an up and down route as we made our way into Thaxted.


After leaving Thaxted we soon joined very quiet country roads to give us an extremely pleasant hour as we made our way through to Lindsell. Of course by now all harvesting is over and the fields are being transformed and it won’t be long before the sheen of new growth appears and a new season will be underway. We met little traffic as we enjoyed the countryside and it wasn’t long before our party arrived at Andrews Field for lunch where we found David and Beryl from near Chelmsford and also Vic F who had cycled out from Linton. There were a number of motor cyclists there and we saw a Norton, BSA, Royal Enfield and a Velocette, all great names from the past.

When lunch was over we rode to the far end of the airfield only to find our way barred by locked gates but Adrian led the way round and we were ready to resume when we realised that Vic wasn’t with us so Adrian and one or two others went back to help and assist with the puncture repair. So we set off again through the village of Great Saling and then after about three miles we went past the Blue Egg at Great Bardfield where we were just a fortnight ago. This time we went through Little Bardfield and via tree-lined roads to Little Sampford and the main road through Great Sampford before all reassembling at Radwinter.

Little Sampford

Now we were in sight of home as we slowly ascended before the run down into Ashdon. This just left us with Bartlow, Linton, over the A1307 which was exceedingly busy with heavy lorries, into Great Abington and into Sawston. This effectively was the end of our Essex tour as the group more or less split equally here as we made our way home. We must thank David for a splendid ride which incorporated many little used roads thus giving us added interest. In total we covered 65 miles. Edward Elmer

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Thursday, 19 September 2013

19 Sep: Thursday ride to Ashwell and Benington

Edward writes: Today looked as if summer was finished for this year. Although the temperature was slightly higher than yesterday it was overcast and the forecast said rain moving in from the west by about mid-day. This probably accounted for the slightly lower turnout than of recent weeks despite the fact that Averil was today’s head girl. Today we renewed acquaintances with Lynn, making one of her brief UK visits, also Jacqui who was with us in Durham and to Daniel who was making a rare Thursday appearance. Thus ten riders left Haslingfield for our excursion out to Benington near Stevenage.


Not surprisingly we had to make the climb up our old friend Chapel Hill to bring us into Barrington where we stopped briefly for some re-grouping. Averil took us round to Orwell and then all the way past the grounds of Wimpole Hall to give us the climb up to the A1198.


We turned left onto the A1198 and enjoyed the mainly downhill run to bring us to the gates on the far side of Wimpole Hall where we turned to go through Arrington and Croydon. Luckily for us there was no climbing of the formidable Croydon Hill, as we turned left again so that we went through Wendy and Shingay and the ride towards Guilden Morden. Although the the breeze was light we were riding into it and so we made slow progress up to the turning for Steeple Morden where David Mr got a puncture which was soon fixed by our regular team of puncture fixers. Once on our way again we just had the two miles to reach Ashwell and coffee courtesy of Day’s bakery and a sit down either in the lovely village garden or under the newly planted tree opposite the village museum.


After coffee about half our number decided to return home so only about seven, including Doug who had joined us at Ashwell, carried on for the full day’s ride. We left Ashwell and did the steep climb out of the village and once on the higher ground the surrounding fields looked quite bleak. It was now starting to rain, just as promised, and the fields in this transitional phase looked colourless. We were again heading into the wind and the rain became heavier so it wasn’t particularly pleasant as the rain in our eyes made it difficult to see. When we reached Sandon Jacqui left us to make her own way back to Cambridge. The rest of us ploughed on and still into the wind and rain as we passed through Redhill and Cromer and then a detour via Walkern Hall before reaching Benington and The Bell for our lunch stop. Thus a bunch of rain-sodden riders arrived looking forward to some relief from the unpleasant conditions. The landlady kindly gave permission for those with sandwiches to eat them in the pub and the others ordered their lunches which, when they arrived looked extremely appetising and well presented. This seems another venue which shouldn’t be forgotten when future rides come this way.



At about 2.15pm, with lunch over, we had to go out and face it all again and we set off to head towards Whempstead. By now Doug had left us as the stoical group carried on to Dane End and through Little and Great Mundon. Although it was still raining we had now turned towards the north and the wind was mostly on our backs. We made good progress, passing through Nasty, Cherry Green, Westmill, Aspenden, and seeing a Kestrel hovering overhead, and finally into Buntingford. We passed the yew hedge with the expert topiary, but no stopping to admire this time as most people’s thoughts were on getting home. We left Buntingford and climbed up to Wyddial before joining the B1368, but only for a short ride as we turned off to go to Nuthampstead followed by Shaftenhoe End and then rejoined the B1368 at Barley for the last leg of our rather wet day out.


The rain by this time was teasing us as it seemed to stop and then start again and the sun seemed to be trying to emerge through the small gaps in the overcast skies. But now it was downhill as we sped along to Flint Cross only for an interminable wait as a convoy of traffic had built up behind a tractor. Our day out was nearly at an end as we made for home via Fowlmere, Thriplow, Newton and Little Shelford and ending in Great Shelford after a very creditable 63 miles. The final irony was the appearance of blue skies and the sun came out. It wasn’t the most pleasant of days but we owe a vote of thanks to Averil who had put a lot of time into researching this route and on any other day would have been an absolute winner. Edward Elmer

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Sunday, 15 September 2013

15 Sep: All-day ride to Newmarket and Depden

Nigel writes: The "first storm of the autumn" was due to hit Britain today, with heavy rain and strong winds expected to move south-east across the country, reaching East Anglia in the afternoon. Despite this the day started cool, dry and fairly still and I rode across to Brookside with the intention of riding to coffee and then returning back home. When I arrived I found Lynn and Gareth already there and a few minutes later we were joined by Neil, making four in total. No doubt the car-assisted ride taking place at the same time also contributed to the low turnout.

Gareth was our leader today, and he led us east out of Cambridge along the river to Fen Ditton and Quy. From there we followed the "old" NCN 51 route via Bottisham, Swaffham Prior, Reach and Burwell to Exning. After a dull start the sun came out and the weather became really rather nice, with a slight tailwind allowing us the four of us to make brisk progress.

We reached Exning soon after 10am, so Gareth added an extra loop via Snailwell before turning back south to Newmarket. We arrived at Coffee & Co at about 10.30am. The cafe was quiet this morning and we were served quickly, and we spent a pleasant half hour enjoying the sunshine whilst we discussed what to do next.

Morning coffee at Coffee & Co, Newmarket

After coffee, Lynn and Neil headed back to Cambridge, leaving Gareth and me to continue on to lunch in Depden.

The weather was already beginning to turn, with the wind increasing and the sky clouding over, so we agreed to take a direct route there and have an early lunch. Gareth's route took us through Moulton, Gazeley, Barrow and Hargrave and we arrived at Depden Farm Cafe at midday.

Lunch at Depden Farm Café

Our Thursday riders had visited this cafe on 29th August, and were very impressed. This was Gareth's and my first visit, and we too were impressed by the pleasant surroundings and the simple menu. Gareth ordered a baguette whilst I had a panini, and I think we were both entirely satisfied. On our visit we were the only people eating (perhaps because it was still early), though whilst we were there a stream of locals called in to visit the farm shop.

Lunch at Depden Farm Café

It was probably about 12.40pm when we left the cafe. By now it was raining gently and we agreed we should ride directly home via Saxon Street, Dullingham and Six Mile Bottom. This took us directly into the wind for much of the way, but despite this we made better progress than either of us probably expected, taking less than two hours to get back to Cambridge (which suggests the cafe might make a useful morning coffee stop next summer).

The rain stopped after a while and it stayed dry for most of the way back home. I arrived home at 2.30pm, and despite the very early return I had still cycled 65 miles.

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Friday, 13 September 2013

12 Sep: Thursday ride to Wimbish and Great Bardfield

Edward writes: This morning started dull, oppressive and damp but there was no rain in the forecast and the temperature was a degree or so higher than previous days so no reason not to expect a good day out into the Essex and Suffolk border area for our trip out to Great Bardfield. In the event about a dozen riders assembled in Hauxton and included in this group was John J, with us for the first time and Robert who was making his second Thursday outing, and we extend a warm welcome to them both.

Not unexpectedly we left Hauxton via Little Shelford and Whittlesford, down to Duxford and the A505 and en route we were joined by Mike B. We went through Duxford via the factory area, over the railway and ford into Hinxton and then to Ickleton and the climb up to Coploe Hill for our regular regrouping spot in the lay-by at the highest point.

Coploe Hill

We left the lay-by to enjoy the rapid downhill but this time we didn’t go through to Catmere End but instead turned left to go past the bluebell woods (wrong time of the year) and down into Littlebury. Unfortunately John J had a puncture and also Clair developed a problem (possibly a slow puncture) with her bike. Therefore, we split into two groups with the advanced party heading off to the coffee stop and the remainder following on behind. Wimbish isn't a good place to get to for an 11 am coffee stop using quiet roads so we went through Littlebury and entered Saffron Walden via Windmill Hill and out again via Radwinter Road with its climb up to Sewards End. That put the worst of the journey behind us and, more or less, we were on pleasant country roads for the rest of the day. Eventually we all arrived at the Elder Street Farm Shop in Wimbish and this proved to be another very good venue and, as Rupert suggested, may be a possibility as a lunch stop for the winter rides.



At about 11.50am we set off again, this time without Clair and Mike B who returned home, but with the addition of four or five others who had made their way independently to Wimbish giving us about seventeen in total. From the coffee stop it was downhill to the Debden turning and then uphill into Debden, followed by Debden Green where we turned to head for Henham, but turning off for Broxted.

Debden Green


This gave us a very pleasantly rural couple of miles before meeting the Thaxted Road where we turned right to bring us into Broxted and the road into Tilty, another narrow and delightful country lane. We notice of course at this time of year how rapidly the farmers change the fields around from harvesting to preparation for next year’s crop. This brought us to the B184 for a short run before turning into Little Cambridge and then Lindsell and the final three miles into Great Bardfield and a very welcome lunch break at the Blue Egg.

Little Cambridge


Although it was 1.20pm when we all arrived service was fairly quick and we were able to leave about an hour later to go back into Great Bardfield followed by the chocolate box village of Finchingfield and the turning and long cross-country stretch to Helions Bumpstead. Along here David Ms was unlucky enough to get a puncture but it didn’t take long for it to be fixed and get under way again. After Helions next up was Castle Camps, where Jacob left us, and a little detour by way of Nosterfield End, Mill Green and Cardinal’s Green before pushing our bikes over the treacherous A1307 to bring us into Horseheath.

Finchingfield to Helions Bumpstead

Castle Camps

We were nearly home now and it just left Balsham, where Rupert, John F and David Ms left us to go into Cambridge via Fulbourn and the remainder of us made for home via Hildersham, Great Abington, over the farm track and an incredibly noisy A11, into Babraham, Sawston and Great Shelford. This gave a ride of 62 miles in what turned out to be a very pleasant riding day. Edward Elmer

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Wednesday, 11 September 2013

11 Sep: Evening ride to Quy

Nigel writes: It was still dry when I left home for Brookside, but with rain forecast to arrive at any time I didn't expect to see anyone else at the start. Nevertheless when I arrived there I wasn't altogether surprised to find regulars John, Klaas and Jim waiting and looking forward to a ride.

By the time we were ready to begin it had started to drizzle, but I suggested we set off and see how we got on. We started by riding down Hills Road towards Addenbrooke's, enjoying its smooth new surface as well as a gentle tailwind. We turned left onto Wort's Causeway and climbed up onto the Gogs before dropping down on the other side to Fulbourn. By now it was raining properly but by now we were warmed up and ready to carry on.

We continued through Great and Little Wilbrahams to Six Mile Bottom. There we crossed the main road and climbed up the other side towards the cross-roads by the woodland cemetery. There we turned north to Dullingham. By now the rain was well established it was getting quite dark but we were in our stride and there was no point in turning back now, so when we reached Dullingham we turned west to Swaffham Bulbeck from where it was just a few more miles via Bottisham to Quy. We reached the White Swan in Quy at about 8.35pm, in good time to order food at this very friendly pub.

We sat in the pub for some time, drinking our drinks, eating our food, and dripping gently onto the carpet. Afterwards we rode back to Cambridge via Fen Ditton and the Jubilee Cycleway. I arrived back home at about 9.45pm, having cycled 30 miles.

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Sunday, 8 September 2013

8 Sep: All-day windmill ride to Wicken, Ely and Willingham

Nigel writes: Today was windmill open weekend in East Anglia, and so today's all-day ride consisted of a gentle ride into the fens north of Cambridge to visit three of these windmills. Rather surprisingly there were only four of us at Brookside for today's ride, but our leader Rupert need not have been worried because many more members would be joining us along the way.

Rupert led us east out of Cambridge along the river across the commons and meadows to Fen Ditton. It was bright and sunny but feeling quite cool and autumnal.

Ditton Meadows

At Fen Ditton we turned east to Quy and followed NCN 11 through Bottisham to Lode. Here we turned onto the Lodes Way. This is a series of off-road paths and quiet farm roads which gave us five miles of delightful fenland cycling all the way to Wicken Fen.

White Fen

With the sun shining brightly the temperature increased and the early morning cold was quickly forgotten.

Bridge over Swaffham Bulbeck Lode

Bridge over Burwell Lode

We arrived at the cafe at Wicken Fen just after 10.30am to find several members already there, and we were soon joined by several more.

Coffee at Wicken Fen

After coffee we retraced our route south and east around the edge of Wicken Fen and then north along a path I had not used before to the main road at the eastern end of the village. Here was our first windmill of the day.

Around Wicken Fen to the Windmill

I've visited quite a few windmills over the years but this is probably the best windmill visit I can remember. It was in full working order and looked absolutely splendid in the sunshine.

Wicken Windmill

We went inside and climbed up four levels and then outside onto an external platform which offered superb views across the fens.

Wicken Windmill (Photo: Gareth Rees)

Whilst we were there the operators removed the brakes and the sails slowly began to turn in the breeze. It wasn't particularly windy but before long the windmill was turning at an impressive speed. This was a very grand sight and a fine thing to witness.

Wicken Windmill in action (10 secs)

After we had finished visiting the windmill we continued north along NCN 11 to Barway and Ely.

Climbing the floodbank north of Barway

On top of the floodbank with Ely Cathedral in the distance

River Great Ouse at Ely from the A142 bridge (Photo: Gareth Rees)

River Great Ouse at Ely and the Cutter Inn (Photo: Gareth Rees)

When we reached Ely we stopped for lunch at The Cutter Inn which is located right by the river. We bought drinks and ordered food and sat down at tables outside. The kitchen couldn't have been very busy today as our food arrived almost immediately.

Lunch in Ely

The weather was beginning to turn and as we ate lunch the sky clouded over, the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. We didn't have very far to go this afternoon so Rupert suggested a leisurely lunch. Gareth, however, was keen to get back on the bike and invited me to join him for an extra loop before rejoining the others.

We rode back south to the A142, crossed the river and then turned north to Queen Adelaide and Littleport along the east bank of the river. Despite the proximity of the Ouse all we could see was a high floodbank. With a strong tailwind our speed didn't drop below 20mph until we reached the turn for Littleport. We crossed the river and rode through the town before turning back south-west to Little Downham and Coveney. We were now riding into the wind but by taking turns in the front we managed to keep up a reasonable speed. A few miles later we arrived in Haddenham where we stopped at the windmill. Rupert and the others were already there having arrived just a few minutes before us.

Haddenham Windmill

Haddenham Windmill

After an interesting tour around the windmill we continued south to Aldreth and across Aldreth Causeway to Willingham. This involved riding along this ancient off-road track for a mile to a bridge over the Ouse and then for a further mile on the other side.

Aldreth Causeway

Nowadays Aldreth Causeway isn't a causeway and, except at the bridge over the river, isn't noticeably higher than the adjacent farmland. It's really just a rough track. For most of the year this is quite muddy but fortunately a dry summer meant that today the surface was perfectly dry.

Information plaque on Aldreth Causeway (click for large version)

Hereward's men fight the Norman invaders on Aldreth Causeway

Aldreth Causeway

We turned off the causeway towards Willingham where we stopped at Cattell's Windmill. This was our third  and final windmill of the day, selected by Rupert because refreshments were available in the building alongside. We went in and ordered tea and cake.

Willingham Windmill with cafe alongside

After we'd finished our tea we walked across to the windmill for a guided tour. The others seemed quite engrossed, but I quickly decided I had seen enough windmills for one day so I slipped out, left a donation, and headed home ahead of the others. I followed the main road for a mile or so to the edge of Longstanton where I turned onto the busway. I followed this as far as Histon before turning south into Cambridge. I arrived home just before 5pm, having cycled 61 miles.

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