Sunday, 22 May 2016

22 May: Cambridge Suffolk Eye-full 200 Perm Audax

Nigel writes: I'm continuing to work my way through the excellent series of local Audax routes designed by Nick Wilkinson and described on the Cambridge Audax website. Today I rode the Cambridge Suffolk Eye-full 200 Perm. A group of other CTC Cambridge members rode this in February (in distinctly challenging winter conditions). Alex's report of that eventful ride is here.

I had originally planned to do this ride on Monday 23rd and had arranged with three other members to do that. However, following a poor weather forecast, and a late-night panic by me on Saturday, I decided to ride a day early. This meant that John and David couldn't make it (which makes me feel slightly guilty), but Camille was able to change her plans at the last minute to join me.

For a general explanation of what a "permanent Audax" is, please read the first few paragraphs of this ride report. But all that really matters is that we were heading east on a 215km (133 mile) circular route from Cambridge, riding deep into Suffolk for a lunch stop in Eye before returning back home by a more southerly route. Nick has written an evocative description of the route on his page for the Cambridge Suffolk Eye-full 200 Perm.

Cambridge City Centre was deserted at 7am on a Sunday morning

I've found that an early start works best for such a long ride, and so it was 7am when Camille and I met by the NatWest Bank in St Andrew's Street for the start of our ride. After a brief discussion about the route, and likely eating places, we took turns to use the ATM to get receipts, and then set off on our way.

The weather forecast for this weekend had been changing constantly; on the days approaching the ride I visited the BBC weather page for Cambridge many times, and seeing a totally different forecast every time. Last night's forecast had predicted a few showers at the start followed by a dry but dull day, but in the event the weather we much better than that, a pleasantly warm, dry day, frequent sunny intervals interrupting the cloud cover, and a very light, 5mph westerly wind.

The first stage of today's ride was a 29 mile run east to Glemsford, along what for me was a familar route. With high spirits, almost empty roads and a very slight tailwind we took this at a fairly fast lick: Camille is used to quick, short rides with a local triathlon club and would probably have gone even faster if she had not been with me.

We reached Glemsford just after 9am and paid a visit to the Post Office and Store to make a purchase and obtain receipts. I started to explain to the friendly shopkeeper why we needed receipts but she was familar with the phenomenon, remarking that a larger group had passed through recently doing the same thing.

Second control at Glemsford

We didn't stop in Glemsford for long, because I knew that a further 8 miles along the route would be a much better place to stop for our first extended break. So we carried on, retracing our route back out of Glemsford before turning north-east towards Boxted, Hartest and Hawstead.

So far the ride had been delightful and I found myself beaming with pleasure. And why not? We had perfect weather, lovely countryside, and I was speeding along smooth, empty roads on my superb new bike.

Between Hartest and Hawstead

Today's ride was also offering me an additional pleasure: the previous day I had spent an hour changing my saddle. Gone was the super-light Bonotrager plastic saddle which had made me ache after 80 miles on previous rides, replaced by the much-loved Brooks B17 leather saddle that I had been using with my Airnimal for the past few years.

Hawstead is the location of the celebrated Maglia Rosso cycle shop and cafe, and since our route went right past we stopped here for breakfast. This was my first visit. It opens at 9am every day of the week, and at 9.30am we seemed to be the first customers there. I ordered beans on toast, Camille ordered scrambled eggs on toast, and we spent a very pleasant half hour or so relaxing in the sunshine.

Breakfast at Maglia Rosso, Hawstead

Maglia Rosso, Hawstead

Although I had not been here before, this cafe is an established summer lunch stop for CTC Cambridge, and we will be visiting there very soon, on Sunday 12th June.

As we ate our breakfast more cyclists arrived, but it was time for us to leave and after a brief visit to their surprisingly large cycle shop we set off once again. We rode through the middle of Hawstead, and my attention was caught by a striking set of Almshouses. The Philip Metcalfe who erected them, and whose name is proclaimed on the front of the building, was no doubt from the same family that gave its name to the Metcalfe Arms, the former pub which is now Maglia Rosso.

Almshouses in Hawstead

Hawstead is on the periphery of the range of normal CTC Cambridge rides, so from now on I had the additional pleasure of riding on completely unfamilar roads. The scenery flattened out, with both of us still riding strongly as we continued north-east for another couple of hours towards Eye.

We reached Eye at about 11.50am. This was our third control, and we visited Barclays Bank to obtain ATM receipts. Eye is a small place, and on a Sunday almost everywhere was closed, but directly opposite Barclays Bank was another bank which had been converted into a small arts centre and cafe. This was called, appropriately, The Bank. I went in to investigate. It did indeed feel like a traditional banking interior with most of the fittings removed. I had been a bit concerned about leaving the bikes outside, so when I spotted a couple of bikes in the corner I asked the waitress whether we could bring ours in too, and she readily agreed. So we wheeled our bikes inside, parked them behind a screen where, no doubt, bank staff once sat, and sat down to order our lunch.

Cycle parking in The Bank, Eye

The menu looked just fine for touring cyclists, with lots of light options, but neither of us were particular hungry and ordered omelettes and salad. This took rather a long time to arrive, and the waitress apologised repeatedly for the delay, but when our meals were eventually served they were very nice. However the extended wait meant that it was not until 1pm that we were ready to continue with our ride.

It was now time to turn back towards Cambridge. We were now riding into the wind, but it was very light and as the afternoon progressed its speed dropped until it became unnoticeable. We agreed that we still had a long way to go and we should moderate our pace and conserve our strength. However, although my legs were happy for a rest, Camille was clearly still full of beans and took the lead for long periods, inadvertently setting a slightly faster pace than I would have chosen but allowing me to draft along behind.

After about two hours we reached Lavenham. I had earmarked this for another cafe stop, and we parked our bikes in the Market Place and went into the National Trust tea shop at the Guildhall. However neither of us was actually hungry; I picked my way through a slice of carrot cake and Camille had nothing. Next time I would probably skip the cafe and just sit in the Market Place.

Market Place, Lavenham, with Guildhall Tea Rooms behind

We reached the final control of the ride (apart from the one at the end) about an hour later. This was Great Yeldham, and we visited the nearer of its two small shops to make token purchases and obtain receipts. Camille was feeling slightly unwell and we sat down to rest at a bench nearby.

The final stage from Great Yeldham back to Cambridge was 28 miles and for me was on fairly familar roads. My legs were beginning to recover, and after having plodded a little earlier I was now riding more strongly again. However Camille was beginning to suffer the beginnings of a cold and I found myself in front for most of the way home.

We followed Nick's route back through Stambrook and the Bumpsteads, climbing up to about 120m at Castle Camps before dropping back down to 60m at Bartlow. Here we turned north and climbed back up to Balsham before our final descent to Fulbourn and Cambridge.

Today's ride had been flatter than I had expected, with (perhaps surprisingly) the biggest climbs of the day being quite close to Cambridge: the climb from Six Mile Bottom to Brinkley at the beginning, and this climb to Balsham right near the end.

After a reasonably fast descent from Balsham to Fulbourn we completed the final five miles into Cambridge via Fulbourn Old Drift, The Tins and Mill Road rather than by the busier (but easier to describe) route on the route sheet. We arrived back at NatWest in St Andrew's Street at 6.30pm. Our official time for the ride, including all stops, was 11 hours 34 minutes.

Hero of the ride: my well-broken-in Brooks B17 saddle. Absolutely no discomfort, but a bit squeaky

After parting company from Camille I rode the final mile home, arriving a few minutes later and having cycled a total of 135 miles.

Today had been yet another superb ride. The route had been delightful, with pleasant countryside and remarkably empty roads almost all the way round. The weather had been warm and sunny, with plenty of cloud to prevent the sun becoming a burden. And a fast and amiable cycling companion. Today was Camille's first Audax, and today's 130 miles was more than twice the length of her previous longest ride. Well done, and welcome to our small band of CTC Cambridge audaxers! Nigel Deakin

This is Nigel's GPS track. GPS and TCX files for this route can be downloaded from the CamAudax site here

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