We set off from Haslingfield towards Harlton where we turned down Washpit Lane, which had more potholes than I remembered, and was also muddy from lots of farm traffic, quickly undoing the bike cleaning I had done before leaving home. (I will try and remember this another time).
From there we took usual roads through Comberton and Toft to Bourn, where we decided to avoid the ford and head up to Caxton End. Soon after Caxton we were overhauled by the city riders led by John Ross, who sped on ahead of us to spread out the orders for coffee. I had been to Waresley on the previous Tuesday in freezing fog, and it was a pleasant change not to have frozen toes, and to be able to see the church spire in the distance rather than having to be right next to it before it appeared through the cloud.
When we arrived at Waresley, we joined a big crowd of CTC Cambridge cyclists in the garden centre cafe. I counted 30 in all, which is a fantastic turnout on a grey December day.
As we got ready to set off afterwards, three people were variously mending punctures and pumping tyres up, so for a few moments an act of sabotage was suspected. On further investigation it turned out that these were all pre-existing slow punctures rather than co-ordinated acts of mischief. We left Waresley in two groups, with the remains of the city group heading off ahead of the village group.
Some way after leaving Waresley, I realised to my annoyance that I hadn't got my fancy photochromic cycling glasses with built-in reading lenses any more, and assumed I had either left these at coffee, or dropped them when unlocking my bike. I made a mental note to call the cafe at lunchtime and worked out a way to divert and drop in there on my way home.
After passing through Everton, Adrian and Richard left us we turned right and dropped down towards Tempsford, being a bit more cautious than usual as the descent was a bit damp and slippery-looking. In the far distance we could just about make out flashing red lights at the level crossing, and we took this as a sign that we could expect to get straight across after the train had gone.
When we arrived at the level crossing, we found the other group still waiting, and just as we pulled up, a train sped past. On a good day at the level crossing, there may be a wait for one or two trains. Bets were placed as to how may trains we would be waiting for, with Rupert going for three and Mike S gambling on four. Everyone was wrong in their guesses, and in the end we waited patiently as five different trains went by - which must be some kind of record.
Trainspotting at Tempsford level crossing
As we crossed the tracks, I noticed that my cycling helmet was getting very uncomfortable, and stopped to investigate. I found that I had managed to put my helmet on over my cycling glasses, which were still on the top of my head, squashed by the helmet. I felt a little foolish, but doubly relieved as the glasses slowly un-bent themselves without damage, and also to be able to see the route on my Garmin sat-nav again.
We crossed the A1 and turned south towards Moggerhanger and then looped north and then east towards Coploe, We had been riding into a bit of a headwind until then, so it was a welcome relief when we made the turn and started to get the benefit of the weather behind us.
The lunch stop was at a place we had not visited before in Willington - Blossom Cafe in the garden centre. This had space outside for people who were eating sandwiches, and was nice and warm inside. The food on offer was very good: soups, jacket potatoes, paninis and cakes, with quick and friendly service and very reasonable prices. It was good to visit somewhere new that ticked all the boxes, and all were in agreement that this should become a regular stop for the future.
Leaving Blossom Café at Willington
After lunch we headed off to join the NCN51 path by the river next to the Danish Camp. We followed the path into Sandy and then variously took two routes through Sandy, meeting up to cross the railway line (there was a bridge, so no risk of waiting for five trains this time!) and climb the hill towards Everton and Gamlingay. Here the city group and a Swavesey-area sub-group continued, while I turned off with the remains of the village group (Susan and Sheila) to ride to Wimpole Hall via Hatley and Croydon. We paused briefly at the entrance, next to the decorated tree, which we admired for its tasteful simplicity, with no garish flashing lights.
Sheila and Susan and festive tree at Wimpole
From Wimpole we continued through Orwell and on towards Barrington. It was only when we turned south after Orwell that we realised how helpful the tailwind had been all the way from Willington. A final effort over Chapel Hill returned us to Haslingfield at 4pm, just as darkness was falling. The round trip from Haslingfield was around 87km.
John Ross and I had planned the combined route together with a bit more thought than usual (for me), and in consultation with Rupert, who helped us improve an early draft of the planned route. This turned out well, as the two rides met up and then parted with military precision exactly as planned, and for once we arrived for coffee at exactly 11am and for lunch at exactly 1pm. This was a novel experience for me as a ride leader - usually over-optimistic and never early, always late. John Seton
Download GPS track (GPX).
John R (leader from Brookside) adds: I set off from home to Brookside with the "Swavsey area section", which comprised Mike CC and Dr John (Mike P would catch us up later). I had been impressed by Mike CC offering to ride into Brookside from home as he normally drives to the village start. He had sent me an email the previous night saying that he wanted the extra distance as he was “feeling frisky”. Well, what could I say? As it turned out his enthusiasm let him down as after a couple of miles he started to slow and Dr John told me to race ahead to get to Brookside in time.
At Brookside I was joined by several other riders and by the time we had collected Mike CC, Dr John and Mike P plus Yasmin and a few others we totalled twelve - four more than the village group. We took the quiet route out via Silver Street, Grange Road and onto the Coton cycle path. After Coton we dropped onto the cyclepath along the St Neots road up to Hardwick and continued on until we turned left onto the Bourn road. Just before we dropped into Bourn we turned right toward Caxton - this is a wonderfully undulating piece of quiet road. After Caxton it was the usual route toward Great Gransden where we saw the village start group just ahead of us. Having caught John S's tidy little group up I indicated to John that to ease the flow of numbers for coffee at Waresley I would chase ahead with a slightly quicker group which in the end comprised myself, Dr John, Mike P, Alex, Yasmin and Eva.
All worked well as the two groups streamed into the garden centre café at Waresley. Gathering riders to move out for the ride to lunch is never easy when we have a big group gathered at coffee and today was no exception – shouting to all milling riders I was leaving with a first group I was followed by Alex, then after a minute or so by Rupert and Russell, leaving John S to rally the remaining half a dozen or so riders for the leg to Willington. As John S describes above we all met up sooner than we had anticipated at the railway crossing on Tempsford Road. John Ross