Nigel writes: Today was the first Sunday all-day ride that I had volunteered to lead for several months, and disappointingly it turned out to also be the first wet Sunday for quite some time. The day started dry and sunny, though when I arrived at Brookside I discovered that the forecast of rain later had reduced the turn out to just David, Ian, newcomer Lysandra and me. We set off through the city centre and north out of Cambridge along Huntingdon Road to Girton.
Just beyond Girton we joined the busway which we followed all the way to St Ives.
Along the busway we were joined by Conrad, who had left home late and had raced along to catch us up. When we reached St Ives Lysandra turned back, leaving Conrad, David, Ian and me to continue on along the Thicket Path to Houghton and across the Ouse Meadows to Hemingford Abbots. From here we continued west across Eastside Common to Godmanchester. At some point along this section Ian left us to head home to do some gardening.
When we reached Huntingdon we took a short diversion across Mill Common to Huntingdon Station along a new cycle path that I had wanted to try out.
A few minutes later we arrived at Hinchingbrooke Country Park, where we stopped for coffee at the cafe there. At the cafe we found Adrian, Rich ard and Vic. Whilst we were in the cafe it had started to rain.
When we left the cafe it was still raining but it was little more than drizzle and wasn't enough to put off Conrad, Adrian, David and Richard from riding with me on to lunch. From Huntingdon we continued west to Brampton and then south-west along a very pleasant country lane to the village of Grafham, on the edge of Grafham Water.
We cycled round the lake to West Perry and then south past Littlehey Prison to Staughton Highway.
We continued to Great Staughton and on through Little Staughton and Keysoe Row to Thurleigh, where we stopped for lunch at Thurleigh Farm Centre. David, Adrian and Richard had taken a slightly different route from Staughton Highway and joined us about ten minutes later.
This was my first visit to Thurleigh Farm Centre and I am pleased to report that it was just the kind of place we like to visit for lunch, with a good range of light options at reasonable prices.
After lunch the five of us discussed what do do next. The rides list had specified afternoon tea at Danish Camp, eight miles to the south, so I had planned a loop to the west, visiting Sharnbrook and Odell before making our way back east through the middle of Bedford to the tea stop. However given the likelihood of more rain, and the unappealing prospect of cycling through Bedford, we agreed to cut short the ride and proceed directly to Danish Camp.
This allowed us to explore a route I had not taken before: south along country lanes to Salph End, around the edge of Bedford and then along a surfaced bridleway over the River Great Ouse to Danish Camp. This turned out to be a surprisingly good route, and well worth using again in the future. The lanes from Thurleigh to Salph End were very quiet despite the proximity to Bedford, whilst the short urban section along Norse Way in Bedford had a wide, smooth and pleasant cycle track along it. A toucan crossing across the A428 allowed us to connect easily with a wide, concrete-surfaced bridleway south to the River Great Ouse. (This was the route that Conrad and I took; Adrian and David left us at Salph End to take a slightly different route, using an unsurfaced bridleway to by-pass the urban section along Norse Way).
We crossed the river and continued along the bridleway under the A421 southern by-pass, which here strides across the flood plain on a viaduct, and into the Grange Estate country park. We turned off the bridleway and followed a very pleasant cycle path round the edge of the park to meet the NCN 51 railway path at Danish Camp. It was about 3.15pm so we didn't stop for tea but continued east along NCN 51 to Sandy.
From Sandy we took the road up through the woods to Everton and a few minutes later arrived in Waresley, where Conrad and I stopped for a brief coffee stop at Waresley Park Garden Centre. It was 4.15pm and the garden centre was due to close at 4.30pm but they were happy to serve us and when closing time was reached the staff seemed perfectly happy to allow us time to finish our drinks whilst they cleaned up around us. Unfortunately Adrian and David, who were a few minutes behind us, didn't realise the cafe was still open and so sheltered from the rain in a bus stop nearby.
Whilst we were in the cafe it began to rain quite heavily and it was still raining steadily when we emerged at 4.45pm. Our route from here was on familiar roads, through Great Gransden, Caxton, Bourn, Comberton and Barton. I arrived home at 6pm, and despite having cut short the ride I had cycled 80 miles.
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