Audax is a form of cycle touring where riders aim to visit a sequence of controls by following a set route. It's not a race, although there is a time limit for completing the ride which places riders under a certain amount of pressure.
Audax rides can be organised mass-participating events, with an organiser planning the route and operating the control points. They can also be more "DIY" affairs, with individuals planning their own route in advance, registering it with Audax UK, and then doing it on their own. In this case they collect shop or ATM receipts (or record a GPS track) as proof of their achievement. Today's ride was somewhere between the two: the participants would be just me and Gareth, but the route we took was a "permanent" route, designed by a local Audax UK member and already registered with Audax UK. Of the two of us, only Gareth was actually registered to collect points for the ride; I was just there for the journey.
Our ride today was the "Cambridge Pork Pie 200 perm", described temptingly on the Cambridge Audax website. The name, of course, reflects the fatty meat pie for which Melton Mowbray is famous.
I got up early and set off from Cambridge at about 7.35am to meet Gareth at the official start point of the ride, which was the Co-op in Girton. I arrived there just before 8am and was soon joined by Gareth, who called into the shop to obtain a receipt bearing the place and time which would serve as official proof of the start of the ride.
8am: Gareth emerges from the Co-op in Girton after obtaining a timestamped receipt
When setting off for a long bike ride it is always best to divide it, both practically and psychologically, into distinct stages with food stops in between. Today's ride divided neatly into four 30-mile stages: Cambridge to Oundle, Oundle to Melton Mowbray, Melton Mowbray to Oundle by a mostly different route, and finally Oundle back via a mostly different route to Cambridge.
The first stage started off on familiar ground, along the busway to St Ives before cutting north-west to Abbots Ripton and Sawtry. The first hour was cool and drizzly, but soon after St Ives the rain stopped, the sky brightened and the sun came out. There was a light but constant south-westerly wind. Periodically when we turned west we found ourselves riding into a headwind but for the most part it was just a side-wind and wasn't too much of a problem.
WW2 memorial near Lutton, just after crossing into Northamptonshire
After Sawtry we continued north-west and crossed from dull, flat Cambridgeshire into Northamptonshire. The landscape became more scenic, the local building material changed to light-brown stone, and the roads became quieter. I remarked how nice it was to cycle through, especially as the sun had now come out.
After a few more miles we arrived in Oundle, where we stopped for refreshments at one of several cafes in this very pretty small town. This was the first official control point of the ride, so, whilst I was waiting for my beans on toast, Gareth slipped outside to visit a nearby ATM and obtain another piece of paper proving his location and time.
Late breakfast at The Coffee Tavern, Oundle
For the next stage we continued north-west towards Melton Mowbray. This section of the ride was noticeable by a succession of descents into small river valleys followed by an immediate climb out the other side. The first of these was at Harringworth, where we crossed the River Welland.
Although we had no choice but to drop down into the Welland Valley and climb up the other side, when the East Midland Railway was constructed here in 1875 its builders had other ideas, and built one of Britain's longest railway viaducts across the valley instead.
Nigel enters England's smallest county (Photo: Gareth Rees)
We continued north-west, through Seaton, Glaston and Wing. This was a pleasant undulating landscape I remembered visiting last year on a CTC car-assisted ride from Wistow and the year before in a CTC car-assisted ride from near Stamford.
Gareth climbs up to Glaston
Nigel climbs up from the River Chater towards Manton (Photo: Gareth Rees)
When we reached Manton, about three miles south of Oakham, we joined the A6003 for a couple of miles. This took us right past the western edge of Rutland Water, but I couldn't see any sign of it.
Decorative garden in a bleak roadside location on the A6003 south of Oakham
We turned off the main road and rode into Oakham. On a Saturday morning this was busy and congested, but it didn't take us to get through the town and before long we were on quiet toads once more.
This speed sign in Oakham displays 16mph as Gareth approaches
As we approached the border with Leicestershire, signs along the road made us aware aware that a major professional cycle race was due to take place in this area the following day: the Rutland-Melton International CiCLE Classic.
Tomorrow's cycling event
Several teams were already in the area, warming up and researching the course.
Cycling team out for a recce
We arrived in Melton Mowbray at 1.30pm. We called at a butcher's in the High Street where Gareth bought some Pork Pies to take home and, more importantly, obtained yet another timestamped receipt.
Nigel outside our nominal destination in Melton Mowbray (Photo: Gareth Rees)
We then stopped for lunch. I spotted a quiet restaurant behind a market stall and we went in for a pleasant lunch of penne bolognaise - and a welcome rest.
Lunch in Melton Mowbray
After lunch we set off back south. This third stage would take us back to Oundle, taking a more westerly, and much hillier, route than our journey here. We were soon out of Melton and cycling up our first hill along a remarkably smooth, gated, road which forms part of NCN 64. This was the first of many times today where I was very impressived by the smoothness and high standard of maintenance of minor roads. Well done Leicestershire.
Smooth, gated road over Gartree Hill south of Melton
Despite the sometimes punishing hills this was easily the nicest part of the ride, with lovely scenery, and roads which were not only very smooth but surprisingly quiet.
Eventually we reached Glaston where we rejoined the route we had taken in the morning for the last few miles into Oundle via Harringworth, Bulwick and Southwick.
Descending for our second visit to Harringworth, with a fine view of the Welland Viaduct
Plethora of choices on offer at Harringworth
I had spotted a group of pro cyclists by the side of the road earlier. One of them had given me a dutiful wave as I passed. Now they were behind them and I braced myself to be passed at speed. With a distinct draft of air they passed me, their support car just behind them. We were going slightly downhill and they cruising along at a relaxed pace, and for a moment I considered tagging on the back before thinking better of it. Instead I followed them for just long enough to take a picture.
The JLT Condor professional racing team cruises past, followed by their support car
Whilst I had been distracted by the JLT team, Gareth had stopped to take a photo of a Red Kite.
A red kite floats lazily overhead (Photo: Gareth Rees)
The "Alpes de Leicestershire" had been hard work and our pace had lessened, particularly for Gareth who was riding steadily but who was not on his normal nippy form today. We arrived back in Oundle at 5.30pm. This time we stopped at Beans Cafe, where we ordered milkshakes and cakes which we enjoyed whilst sitting outside, contemplating the final stage back to Cambridge. By now we had ridden 102 miles, so we were entitled to feel tired.
Milkshakes and cake at Beans cafe, Oundle, before the final stage to Cambridge
The final stage of the ride began by taking a more southerly route than in the morning, though Winwick and Mamerton to Alconbury Weston. Fortunately this was fairly flat and easy. Also, the expected rain had not returned and the afternoon gradually transformed into a fine, sunny evening.
Ford at Alconbury Weston
After Alconbury we were on familar, if tedious ground. We crossed the A1(M) and A14 and followed Ermine Street into Huntingdon. After an uneventful half-circuit of its ghastly one-way town centre ring road (a sad planning error which more or less destroys Huntingdon as a nice place to either visit or live) we were on our way to Godmanchester and the familar off-road path across Eastside Common to the Hemingfords. We were soon in St Ives where I turned on my lights for the final few miles down to busway to Cambridge.
We reached the Co-op in Girton at 8.30pm, making this a slightly slower ride than on some earlier 200km Audaxes, but still comfortably within the Audax time limits. Here we stopped whilst Gareth popped in to get another receipt.
Gareth returns to the Girton Co-op to buy a well-deserved beer and, more importantly, obtained a timestamped receipt
Garmin display at the official end of the ride
I rolled on into Cambridge and arrived home at 8.50pm, having cycled a total of 141 miles, which rather unexpectedly matches the personal record I set almost five years ago for my longest ride ever, as well as incrementing my Eddingdon Number to 76.
Download GPS track (GPX).
Full details of the route, including route sheets and GPX files more suitable for navigation, can be found on the Cambridge Audax Site.