On arrival at Brookside Greg looked eagerly around – where was the welcoming committee, the fanfare? Surely he was to be anointed with water from the Sacred Bidon? Would there be some ceremony or recognition for this being his First Ride As Leader? His wife had promised him sausages for tea so that was reason enough to be excited about the day!
There were some eight fellow riders – Rupert, Sheila, Mike CC, Sue, Peter, Eva, Ray and Li – but his arrival was met by warm greetings but no fanfare. Oh, well – let’s be off!
Ready for the off
We had gone but a few hundred yards when our ranks were swelled by Yasmin who swept up magisterially on her brand new bike – which was on its first big outing – both rider and machine seemed most happy!
Yasmin and her new bike
We turned down Barrow Road – how much had the house prices increased since last we passed this way, one wondered? The DNA path swept us past the Dubai of the Fens – the pace of development here being like that of the desert kingdom! Addenbrookes seemed much changed again with the progress on various major schemes continuing apace – a Crane Spotters dream!
At Shelford we opted for the second level crossing – and we managed to split the party at the crossing as the Stansted Express thundered through. It gave Mike CC an opportunity to explain something:
Mike CC explains
We soon resumed the trip – through the Shelfords and clipping Harston before ascending the first of many hills and we crested Newton Hill. A brief mechanical moment as Li had some gear change issues but Rupert pronounced ‘All Would Be Well’ and we resumed our way.
Through Fowlmere we swept and on to the A505. The traffic was heavier than usual for a Sunday morning – early arrivals for the airshow presumably (of which more later….) but we managed a safe passage over – all duly impressed at the ridiculously aggressive antics of a 4x4 driver alongside us who roared off – followed by our disdain!
We then headed South – hauling ourselves up the long drag towards the top of the ridgeway – some 2 miles of mainly uphill slog. This split the group somewhat. Those left back in the group may have assumed that Rupert’s impressive speed as he roared ahead was driven by an extra Weetabix for breakfast. It was proven false because on arrival at the layby at the top it was determined that the power pressing him on was liquid in nature – his bike was there but Rupert was not - though he soon emerged from his hedge...
The group reformed and we had a chance to bemoan the weather further – some fiddling with layers since many had now warmed and Mike CC showed some impressive folding skills as he stowed one layer in his capacious pannier.
On then towards Heydon – the Road Closed signs were ignored since the route had been recce’d and the water main works would not impede cyclists. Work in the broadest sense of the word since none appears to have occurred in the last 10 days or so….
Straight on at Great Chishill and we were now really getting into the Hertfordshire countryside – evidenced not simply by the undulating nature of the lanes but more specifically by the marked improvement in the standard of the road surface. It comes as something when you can determine which county you are in by a simple pothole and surface analysis of a ten yard stretch of road….
We then turned left again and began the ascent of Nuthamstead Hill. Mike CC complained that this was an 11% hill and his legs were now only rated up to 9%....whilst Yasmin helpfully wondered "Hill, What Hill?" – clearly Mike CC needs one of those new bikes!
A few people now put more clothes on – another First for people to be adding layers at the top of the hill since the weather was gloomy and dull. Greg insisted that he had spoken to the weather gods and the sun would be appearing at 12.15. Much doubt ensued. He had, however, successfully liaised with Conrad who now swept up to join the group – another First since this was the leader of the afternoon ride coming out to greet the morning ride before returning to Cambridge for his pm stint.
Greg had hinted earlier at some sort of flying display he was organising (?) and we were greeted to the strange sight (another First?) of a buzzard being mobbed by a smaller but far more aggressive crow. The buzzard retired from the scene of battle whilst we all looked on as we cycled past – not a bad flying display but Greg insisted that better was planned…
On we went – the gloomy weather failing to dampen the mood as we wound our way through various villages towards the coffee stop at Meesden – arriving a couple of minutes after 11am to see Ed, Adrian, Ian, Joseph and co. already ensconced.
Chaos at coffee
Rupert, not satisfied with just three Weetabix (see earlier) had taken the precaution of not only arranging for the village hall committee to open the café for us but had also pre-booked bacon sandwiches and chocolate brownies. He declared both to be most satisfactory!
Adrian made his exit quietly and after various shenanigans we managed to reform the main group that was destined for lunch and waved off some returners – Mike CC and Sue setting off together to be replaced in the main group by Dave W and Susan who had just arrived. Ian and Joseph now also joined the larger group and we all headed towards lunch.
The wind had picked up somewhat and the gloom remained – were things getting worse? Greg insisted that both sunshine and wind shift had been pre-booked and although we had the benefit of the wind now it would not be a major problem for the return leg after lunch. Cynicism abounded – especially when he also claimed that in recognition of the importance of CTC he had also organised a Red Arrows flypast at 5pm. Ah, the much promised flypast. Cynicism in the group grew….
Most ignored these ridiculous claims and simply enjoyed a glorious stage of cycling though many lovely villages and even one Nasty one!
A pretty nasty cottage
The route wound through the lanes, down through Buntingford and on past the Catholic Public School before plunging down the gravelly by-road that took us to the ford in Standon. The bridge was used by all – Yasmin ensuring her bike remained pristine throughout. Greg leapt off his bike to take a photo – and Sheila announced she was satisfied since she was concerned that there would be no photos of the day….she clearly wanted some kind of pictorial record that she had been on the trip!
We then headed uphill (again!) as we made the final 3 miles to Much Hadham. This was a glorious stretch of cycling and thanks go to Rupert for plotting such a good route.
Just before Much Hadham we passed through Gravesend and then Bromley. Ed wondered if we had gone to Kent by mistake? It appeared not, though Greg helped cheer people up by shouting "Sun" loudly; some were confused, but the shadows supported his assertion that, although circa 40 minutes after when he had booked it, it had arrived – fashionably late, one might say.
Lunch was at Hopley’s in Much Hadham. We arrived to find Adrian (or was it his twin? How does he do it?) already there and polishing off a bowl of soup.
Rupert gave close attention to the quality of the soup and then analysed the menu before placing his order with young Tom, the waiter, who was apologising that because of the sudden rush indoors the food might be up to 45 minutes in coming out.
Rupert is always well-prepared for a potential crisis such as this, and notwithstanding his previous efforts at coffee, he went and found his "emergency contingency sandwich": a monster doorstep of a baguette. This was enough to tide him over until his actual lunch arrived.
Taking Rupert's order
Rupert after two lunches
We passed a pleasant hour or so chatting at lunch. Adrian disappeared somewhere during this phase whilst Li set off to peruse the attractive gardens. Most enjoyed the sunshine and the dropping wind (yes, it was getting quite pleasant) and Eva decreed that this was just the sort of weather that called for a glass of wine. She was right!
Sheila getting ready for her photo
We set off after lunch to make the Northerly trip back towards Cambridge – with the sun shining and spirits raised. The wind, whilst there, seemed not to be the bother that some had feared – wind shift and reduction delivered as promised...
Onwards we went – Little Hadham and the Pelhams were ahead and after a brief delay when Greg faffed around with sheets of paper and maps he then came to the conclusion that it was a left to Brent Pelham after all….
We sped along happily enjoying the sight of multiple kites and spring in all its glory as we headed towards the last two hills of the day – into Elmdon and then the final ascent back out the other side….
We hauled ourselves up into Elmdon – legs now feeling the effects of the accumulated effort of hills and wind – apart from Yasmin who bounded along still!
In Elmdon we once again met Conrad – this time with his crew of four – the afternoon ride.
Such planning and minute perfect scheduling! Was it another first to have been met twice when out on the route by the same person?
We headed out of Elmdon on the long leisurely glide down – and the knowledgeable knew that another vicious little kick-up awaited – which we all successfully crested before sweeping down towards Ickleton.
At the bottom of the hill there was some re-jigging. Rupert headed back to Cambridge – an early dinner awaited, no doubt…..whilst Yasmin and some others were also homeward bound. The remainder headed towards the Ickleton Riverside Café where Adrian was sitting awaiting our arrival. How does he do it??
Perhaps Adrian – or his twin – needs a white cat to be upon his lap being stroked for these moments – where we all arrive and he pronounces ‘Ah, CTC, I have been expecting you!’
We had a very pleasant 30 minutes or so – Sheila insisting on more photos – before we then set off towards home. The sun was out, the spirits were up – and yet there remained doubts from some over the much vaunted fly past….
After some discussion Ray headed off to lead the route through the pretty village of Hinxton and over the ford there, after which we crossed the A505 for a second time (this time with no delay) before continuing on our way home through Whittlesford. Greg and Dave W departed at the junction just after this, leaving the remainder of the group to be led by back to Cambridge by Conrad.
Almost as soon as Greg and Dave W had turned away from the main group the heavens were rent asunder by the sound of a low flying jet roaring overhead, smoke streaming astern. The Red Arrows had arrived on cue and they swooped and circled over Duxford – it was another first to have a CTC flypast to help celebrate what had been a glorious late spring ride.
CTC flypast, as seen from my bike
Those taking the full route back to Cambridge would have done 75 miles, with over 2000 foot of climbing, a great effort and an enjoyable day. Greg celebrated his own personal first, the leadership of a CTC ride, with sausages for dinner. Rupert (and others) may want the recipe, so I've provided it above!Greg Tucker
Download GPS track (GPX).