Sunday, 18 May 2014

18 May: Sunday longer ride to Southill, Whitwell and Ashwell

Nigel writes: Today was forecast to be the hottest day of the year so far, with clear skies, bright sunshine and very warm temperatures predicted for the whole day. By a happy coincidence this was the day of one of Gareth's occasional longer rides, starting slightly earlier than usual at 8.30am and riding slightly further, and slightly faster, than usual. I arrived at Brookside to find Gareth waiting with John, Seb and Malcolm, making five in total.

After introducing ourselves to each other we set off and cycled south-west out of Cambridge along Barton Road. We soon discovered we were a well-matched group. The pace was fast from the start, with Gareth leading from the front and the rest of us following in a close peloton behind him, occasionally taking turns to ride at the front. Fast rides don't give me much opportunity to take photos, but when we reached Toft I managed to get the group to pause by the church long enough for me to take my first picture.


The purpose of today's ride was to explore the countryside beyond Hitchin and Stevenage in Hertfordshire, an area which lies at the periphery of our usual range for day trips from Cambridge. Today was not a day to explore lanes closer to home, so Gareth's route to our first refreshment stop in Southill took us straight there, via Bourn, Gamlingay, Potton and Biggleswade, reaching the Village tea Rooms in Southill at 10.10am, rather earlier than planned.


Unfortunately the tea rooms didn't open until 10.30am, but once the proprietor had discovered our plight she invited us in anyway. This was my first visit and it seems a lovely place. We ordered food and drinks and sat down at a table in their large garden to consume them. Since the place hadn't officially opened yet we were the only customers there, but after a while other people began to arrive and we were told that were expecting 320 cyclists on a charity ride later in the day.


At about 10.45am we set off again. John left the group to ride home, leaving four of us to continue south towards our lunch stop in Whitwell. We were now cycling along quiet lanes, and the pace of our ride reduced just slightly, especially as the landscape gradually become hillier.

At Hexton, a small village near Barton le Clay, we passed the Lavender Tea Room at the village hall. There were bikes parked outside which suggested it might be suitable as a future coffee or lunch stop. You can see a photo here and opening times here.

We reached Whitwell at about 12.15pm and stopped for lunch at Emily's Tea room. As on our last visit, it was busy with cyclists and almost no-one else. After lunch we were just getting ready to set off when Conrad arrived. He had taken a longer route via Puckeridge and Ware, approaching Whitwell from the south. He went in to order lunch, and the rest of us set off for a loop to the south before turning north towards our tea stop in Ashwell.

The most southerly point of our ride was Ayot St Lawrence, a tiny village famous for being the location of Shaw's Corner, the house where George Bernard Shaw lived for many years, and which is now in the care of the National Trust. We paused outside to take a quick look.

Shaw's Corner, Ayot St Lawrence

It was now time to head back north, along more narrow lanes to St Paul's Walden and then around the edge of Letchworth to Baldock. We reached Ashwell at 3pm and stopped for tea at the Parish Church Rooms. We were very early, but after a while were joined by Conrad, Mike S, and then eventually by the afternoon ride.

The four of us were the first to arrive, and the first to set off for home. With the purpose of our ride achieved, we took a fairly direct (but very pleasant) route to Cambridge via Bassingbourn and Chapel Hill, riding back into Cambridge along the Barton Road.

It was about 5.30pm when we arrived in Newnham on the edge of Cambridge. When we reached the junction with Grange Road Gareth turned north, leaving Malcolm, Seb and me to continue east towards the City Centre. Earlier in the day I had mentioned the ice cream kiosk by the paddling pool on Lammas Land, and since we were very close Malcolm was keen to try it. The paddling pool itself was dry, but the park was busy with local families playing in the late afternoon sunshine. We bought 99's and sat down on the grass nearby to eat them. After a pleasant twenty minutes relaxation we set off once more on our way. Seb and I were almost home, but Malcolm still had another 15 miles to go. I arrived home a few minutes later at 6pm, having cycled 91 miles.

View this GPS track on a larger map. Download GPS track (GPX).


  1. North Herts CTC user the Lavendar tea rooms as a control on their summertime circular audax I believe. Definitely cycle friendly :-)

  2. There were at least two, maybe three organised rides that I passed, including the Hertford 100 Bike Event that started at Knebworth House.

    I was following sections of an audax route to be held 8th June by the Hertford Wheelers. I picked up the tail end of the route when I passed Hare Street, Braughing and then turning into Puckeridge, Standon and the straight road into Ware. The Audax starts at Ware so I then followed the first part of the route which showcased the many traffic lights and roundabouts in Ware and Hertford before going through Bramfield, Woolmer Green and the southern part of Knebworth House.

    I left the route to join you at Whitwell and after lunch rejoined the Audax route at St Paul's Warden, and followed your route but turned right up this very steep hill towards Graveley. Then the route wiggled its way till Halls Green and the road that leads to Ardeley where I finally left the Audax route and went straight to Ashwell.

    I followed the afternoon ride back to Cambridge and John did a great job of showing me another way back via Melbourn and Fowlmere. There were five on the afternoon ride. The route was longer than the way we usually take but avoided Chapel Hill, and had the advantage of keeping with Tina and Mick S for as long as possible. Well done, John!

    1. This was a really good ride. I was sorry to leave the guys after coffee but still made 70 miles by the time I got home. Having said that, the loss of the company was more than compensated by riding around 10 miles with Linda Villumsen of the Women's Wiggle Honda Team. She had to pull out of the TdeB but is now getting herself back to full fitness to represent NZ in the Commonwealth Games. Look out for her!

  3. Thanks to everyone for a great ride. I was all done in when I got home—I was glad I didn't have another 20 km to go like Malcolm! I sent the Southill Village Tea Room a thank-you note for opening early for us. I also added the Lavender Tea Room at Hexton to the rides database and to the map.