A few moments later we set off and followed the Barton Road cycleway west out of Cambridge to Barton. There we turned onto the B1046 and followed it through Comberton and Toft to Bourn.
Crossing the city limits on Barton Road
We left the B1046 at Bourn and turned onto the road that leads to Caxton and Great Gransden. As is usual on Sunday morning rides the ride out of Cambridge was relaxed and convivial, and now that we were on quiet lanes with little traffic we could relax and concentrate on the business in hand, which was to catch up with other riders whom we'd not seen for a while.
On the road between Caxton and Great Gransden
We continued from Great Gransden to Waresley, where we paused briefly outside the Duncombe Arms.
Our Senior Cyclists' group have occasionally visited the Duncombe Arms for lunch so I was disappointed to see that the pub had closed very recently.
The Duncombe Arms, Waresley is no more
From Waresley we continued towards St Neots, taking the very quiet and rather lovely lane that leads over Lily Hill before joining the B1046 (again) for the final few miles into St Neots.
Riverside Park, St Neots
We crossed the River Great Ouse using the foot/cycle bridge in Riverside Park before stopping for coffee at Ambiance Cafe. This is promisingly positioned at the edge of the park, right next to a small lake, but the location is rather wasted since the entrance and almost all the outdoor seating are placed on the other side facing a large car park.
Nevertheless I think this modest cafe is one of the stars of our repertoire, serving a good range of light meals and breakfasts and suitable for visiting at any time of day. Despite being very busy the service was impressively efficient: we didn't have to queue for more than a few minutes to give our order, and after sitting down outside my beans on toast arrived in less than five minutes. I particular liked the way that your coffee is supplied at the time of ordering, so you have something to drink whilst waiting for your food. It seems obvious, but it's surprising how many places don't get even these basics right.
Amusingly, one basic they don't get right is spelling: the large sign over the main entrance proclaims its names as Ambiance Cafe (see photo here) whilst the smaller sign at the other end (below) spells it correctly.
Whilst we were having coffee several more members arrived: Adrian and Doug, Susan, and David W.
Morning coffee at the Ambiance/Ambience Cafe, St Neots
After coffee we regrouped and set off for the next stage of the ride, to lunch in Willington. My companions for this part of the ride were Rupert, Sheila, Alex, Ian, John S, and Conrad our leader, with Adrian and Doug making their own way there at their own pace.
From Riverside Park we followed the relatively main B1428 that leads south towards Eaton Socon and the A1. This wouldn't have been my own choice, not because it was busy (it wasn't) but because of the badly-designed traffic calming that increases conflict between cyclists and drivers. Fortunately we didn't have to follow it for more than a kilometre before turning west onto the quieter country road that leads west, over the A1 and on to Bushmead.
The road from Bushmead to Great Barford
At Bushmead we turned south and followed the road south for about 10km to Great Barford. After crossing the River Great Ouse for the second time today we turned right towards Willington. After a short distance we joined the NCN 51 railway path for the final 2km to our lunch stop.
Approaching Willington on the railway path
We arrived at Danish Camp at 12.30pm. This had been a fairly short stage of the ride, but Conrad reminded us that Danish Camp was notoriously slow and we might well need the extra half hour.
Lunch at Danish Camp, Willington beside the River Great Ouse
Danish Camp is essentially a cafe surpunded by a very large of lawn leading down to the River Great Ouse. It's a very pleasant spot and after queueing inside to order food we went outside and spent a very pleasant hour sitting at a table by the river. This is a nice place to visit and the menu here is just right for our needs, but, as Conrad predicted, the service today was rather slow, and we had to wait quite a long time for our food to arrive. Whilst we waited we wondered whether there was anywhere better in the area. Any suggestions?
After a while we were joined by Adrian and Doug who had made their own way here from St Neots.
After lunch we set off once more. Since today's ride was designated as a "light day ride", which no afternoon tea stop, we would simply be riding back home to Cambridge. The first part of our route involved riding back east along the railway path to Sandy, except for a short section past Willington Lock where cycling is not permitted.
Cycling is not allowed on this section of NCN 51 east of Willington
I've cycled through Sandy many times but I'm always disoriented by the route taken by NCN 51 as it winds its circuitous way through housing estates on the east of the town. Today was no exception, but fortunately Conrad was in the lead and it wasn't long before we reached the quiet road that leads east out Sandy to Everton.
Through the woods at Sandy
The road from Sandy to Everton is pleasantly wooded and starts with a short climb out of the valley of the River Ivel towards Everton. Although this doesn't feel like much of a climb (it only climbs about 40m and, unlike nearby Tempsford Hill, is not steep) it takes you to the top of the Greensand Ridge, a long escarpment which runs all the way from Cambridgeshire to the Chilterns. Along the way I spotted a small thatched cottage with a pig on the roof. Whilst I've seen plenty of ornamental birds and insects on the top of thatched roofs, this was the first time I'd seen a pig.
Pig on a roof between Sandy and Everton
We passed through Everton and continued to Gamlingay, where we turned onto the pleasant road that leads through The Hatleys to Croydon. This is a familiar route home and normally involves turning left part-way down Croydon Hil towards Croydon, Arrington and the back entrance to the Wimpole estate. Croydon Hill is one of the longer and steeper hills in the area so I was pleased when Conrad announced that today we'd be riding all the way to the bottom instead. This was great fun and both Alex and I briefly touched 66kph (41mph) on the way down. Fortunately the road has a good surface and a long runout to the T-junction at the bottom, and I felt completely confident on my new bike.
We continued south through Wendy and Shingay to Bassingbourn, where we turned east to follow another of our other familar return routes home to Cambridge. This took us through Meldreth, Shepreth, Barrington and over Chapel Hill to Haslingfield.
Suspicious character in Haslingfield
At this point there were just three of us: Rupert, John and Sheila had disappeared earlier and Ian had peeled off in Shepreth. (I later discovered Rupert, John and Sheila had split away at Wendy taking a more direct route home). Conrad turned left to follow the usual route home via Barton, but Alex announced that doing Barton Road *again* was boring and turned right instead. I decided to follow him back through Harston and Trumpington Meadows and then along the busway for the final few miles into Cambridge. I arrived home at 4.35pm, having cycled 117km (72 miles). Nigel Deakin
Download GPS track (GPX).