Wednesday, 24 May 2017

14/15 April: Easter Arrow to York

Alex writes: The Easter Arrows to York are team events organized by Audax UK. The rules as written are complicated, but the upshot is that teams from all over the UK, each of up to five riders, converge on York over the Easter weekend, each aiming to ride around 400 km within a 24 hour time limit.

This year Cambridge was represented by a four-rider team, the “Cambridge Express” containing three club members: Nick W (captain), Alex, and Nigel. Joining us was Pichy, a rider based around Edinburgh and who was – as Nick put it – our “secret weapon” …

Each team’s composition, route and plan has to be submitted to Audax UK for approval and as team captain, Nick had been responsible all the preparation. Since all of all us of have entered London-Edinburgh-London (LEL) his concept was to shadow long stretches of the LEL route, and in order to make up sufficient distance we would first perform a large “orbit” of Cambridge before heading North for the Fens. The overall cycling distance turned out to be 415 km (258 miles).

Ready for the off

And so at 08:00 on Good Friday the team assembled in central Cambridge, got ATM receipts and cycled East out of the city. Nigel and I were both on carbon geared machines; Nick and Pichy were riding fixed: Nick with 72 gear inches on aluminium, and Pichy 79 gear inches on steel.

You can tell it's going to be a long ride ...

We had all been carefully watching the weather forecast in the run up to the ride, and as promised there was a firm wind behind us from the West. We found ourselves clipping along easily at around 30 km/h – but none of us was under any illusion that we’d be still be doing this by the following morning.

Breakfast at Red Lodge

After breakfast sitting out in the sunshine at Red Lodge (33 km), we turned south and got a taste of the crosswind that was to feature for much of the ride. The pace was still fairly quick and we were now entering some of the lumpier terrain hereabouts around Dalham and Gazeley – however Pichy pronounced himself delighted with the novelty of what was for him a flat ride, and when the road started going up Pichy and Nick didn’t seem to slow down; I puffed effortfully in their serene wake.

Pichy!

At Haverhill (65 km) a wooden stage had been erected in the town square and an insipid preacher was talking apologetically about sin over a PA system. We controlled and moved on now directly into the 20 km/h wind. Progress remained brisk as we worked over familiar terrain towards Saffron Walden and I began to wonder about the effect such intensity would have on me in the hours to come. Nick was banking time and this was however wise: we had to ride as a team so any mechanical or other enforced stop would affect us all, so Nick was aiming to arrive in York at 07:00, keeping at least an hour’s buffer to allow for this. With the distance to cover in (effectively) only 23 hours that made the minimum average moving speed (including stops) ~18 km/h, a much sterner target than the more usual 15 km/h. Add to that that 400 km is commonly thought the toughest distance – long enough to need a sleep, but not long enough to allow one – and all the ingredients are there for a testing ride indeed.

I was certainly feeling a bit tested as we pulled up at the Tally Ho pub in Barkway (105 km). As Nick dismounted he winced in pain – something was up with his ankle. A couple of hours earlier Nick's bike had touched wheels with Nigel's and he had put his foot down to avoid falling over. Although he hadn't noticed it at the time, this had made his ankle painful to walk on, though fortunately it didn't seem to be a problem whilst actually riding the bike.

Nigel continues: It was now 13:00 and time for lunch. This was my first visit to the Tally Ho, though the pub was familiar to Nick as a control on his “Cambridge Spring Dash” 100km calendar event. We all ordered fairly light meals (and two of us ordered beers) and were there for almost an hour before Nick indicated that it was time to move on.

Our departure from Barkway came as something of a relief, since after having spent the morning on a big loop that had taken us first east, and then south, of Cambridge, we were at last heading north in the direction of our ultimate destination. We were also now on the official LEL route north: Nick's plan was to follow this as far as the Humber Bridge, though he mentioned that we might take a few short-cuts along the way.

We started with a fast descent down the B1168 to Fowlmere, where we turned left, towards our fourth control point in Barrington. As the village shop was closed today, we paused in front of the village sign and Nick took a team selfie to prove our passage.

Controlling in Barrington


Barrington

As we approached Chapel Hill I explained to our guest rider Pichy that this 61 m summit had an iconic status amongst Cambridge cyclists, and that despite its modest elevation (less than half that of Barkway) we considered this our local mountain. I suspect he thought I was joking. We made short work of the climb up its “easy” side, and from the top we could see the towers and cranes of Cambridge. This would be our last climb until we reached the Lincolnshire Wolds six hours later.

We reached St Ives (154 km) at 16:00, and rather to my surprise Nick proposed we stop for tea at the River Tea Rooms.

Tea in St Ives

Once again, there was a sharp cry from Nick as he dismounted from his bike and was reminded that he had hurt his ankle. As we sat drinking tea and eating some huge portions of cake Nick examined his injury, and the rest of us remarked that despite having been riding for eight hours we were still only 25 km from Cambridge ...

Poorly ankle

As we left St Ives and made our way north towards The Fens, it felt to me that the ride was at last beginning. Eight hours after we had started, we had at last escaped the gravitational pull of Cambridge and were now on our way to York.

The next two hours took us across the Cambridgeshire Fens to Ramsey Heights, Whittlesey and Thorney. The B1040 was flat and straight, perfect for peloton riding. Nick and Pichy set a fast pace at the front, with Alex and I taking an echelon position behind to gain the maximum protection from the persistent (and rather cold) westerly wind. The pace was definitely faster than I would have preferred, with long sections at over 30 km/h, but Alex and I managed to cling on at the back and the four of us made good progress.

We crossed into Lincolnshire and after passing through Crowland (famous for its medieval “bridge to nowhere”) we found ourselves following a deserted road alongside the River Welland to Spalding. Along the way we found another Easter Arrows team, the Kingston Wheelers, temporarily at a halt whilst one of its members fixed a puncture. A few moments later it started to rain a little, and it began to get dark.

We arrived in Spalding (217 km) just after 7pm. It was time for dinner, and after checking out Wetherspoons and finding it too busy we decided to eat at the Tulip Tandoori a little further along the street.

Curry surprise in the Tulip Tandoori, Spalding

Alex continues: As we departed Spalding Nick mentioned that we should all be “soft pedalling” for a while to aid digestion, however the speed soon crept up above 25 km/h and we resumed our places in an echelon-like formation: this was a cruising speed, it seemed, at which we felt comfortable. I was in good spirits: my tummy was full of curry and my heart had slowed allowing me to make progress feeling nicely relaxed. I knew however that the next act of my body would be to cut power – I hoped I’d have enough for the remaining 200 km …

The rain was beginning to ease as we reached Kirton (237 km) at around 21:00. I queued in the Co-op behind one guy buying crates of Budweiser and another – tattooed, pierced and twitching – buying a bottle of vodka for his suspiciously young female companion.

Kirton

The temperature was now dropping and by the time we reached Horncastle (272 km) my Garmin was reading 5°C. It was 23:00 – I plinked a caffeine tab into my bidon as a ward against sleepiness. Nick forewarned us that although the next stage to Louth was only 21 km we should expect it to take around an hour because things were about to get lumpy …

Controlling in Horncastle

Sure enough, as we hit the Lincolnshire Wolds my legs – used to riding on the flat for hours – were shocked to find the road going up – and quite seriously too. A sustained stretch of 12% incline on Cawkwell Hill even saw the fixies falter and start to grind to a halt. Somewhat relieved by this sign that Nick and Pichy were human, I spun past (pushing about  their gear length) and enjoyed a fast blast downhill with Nigel whose bike was now pulsing with pop music via his Bluetooth speaker.

We controlled in Louth town centre (293 km) at around midnight just as the local clubs were turning out. “What the @*#! are you doing on your bikes at this time of night?” shouted an inebriated youth. It seemed a pertinent question.

A little out of town we pulled in to a 24-hour garage. These often function as a kind of Shangri-La for tired audaxers, offering an array of unhealthy snacks, a seating area, loos, and a semi-decent Costa coffee machine. Sure enough, we found an Arrows team for Lincoln already huddled inside. I ate some crisps, drank a coffee and added another caffeine tab to my water. 120 km to ride with plenty of time in hand: how hard could that be? I called the ride as in the bag. Nick however, cautioned against over-confidence: it wasn’t over until it was over …

Midnight garage fun

Nick continues: Just under 300km done, about 115 km left to ride to York. Midnight-o’clock, so eight hours in which to ride it. Something like 15 km/h should do it. It’s easy to think the ride’s done-and-dusted at times like this, but all it takes is a couple of punctures, or someone feeling the strain and slowing the pace, for all that to change.

After 25 minutes or so in the services, we started moving out — by now the team could sense when it was time to go without being told. I could’ve really driven the teams through the controls, but we were at least as good as target times with some judicious use of route-options, so no need to upset the steady mood in the team with unnecessary hurry-ups. Outside the temperature had fallen further, so no hanging about.

My planned route for this, the longest, stage was to follow the scenic lanes over the Lincolnshire Wolds, but I had a shortcut in my pocket in case we needed it — use the main A18 along the edge of the Wolds to within spitting distance of the Humber Bridge. The overall distance would still be well above the 400 km minimum, but we would save several kilometres of riding and 200 m of climbing, and it seemed prudent to take it. The advantage of night-riding is that there is very little traffic — even though this is one of the main roads in the Wolds, we would see but a handful of very respectful cars.

In spite of this being the low-road, there were still several uppy-bits and Pich and I on fixed-gear leapt up them, keeping “on top of the gear”. Nigel and Alex were riding spinny gears and lighter bikes, but it was clear they were really beginning to feel the distance, not helped by a slight turn into the wind, and we rolled off the front from time to time and stopped to regroup several times.

One of the special features of my route was an early-morning crossing of the Humber Bridge — the longest cantilever suspension bridge in the world that you can cycle over, apparently. An obligatory stop for a team photo — I brought a micro-tripod just for this occasion — but requiring two locations to frame the shot.

If I can just lie here for a while ...


On the Humber Bridge

After the bridge it was 15 km on the main A-road into Beverley — during the day I wouldn’t take the team anywhere near this road, but at 3am it was very quiet, and drivers were still showing a great deal of respect with proper full-lane passes, so a nice, fast ride into town. We bumped into an Arrow team from Suffolk on the way in, but they stopped for a bus-stop rest while we rode on. I even recognised one of the riders from only my second 200 km audax back in 2012!

We ignored the tourist route and headed straight into town for a receipt. Nigel was showing the signs of extreme tiredness and was almost asleep in a shop doorway, so for once I didn’t let us hang about. Alex asked about another rest stop, but I cast firm doubt on that — not particularly for time, although that would later be a factor, but because I thought that once Nigel hit the warm air then that would be his first Arrow attempt over, so better to deal with the tiredness on the bike as best we could and keep moving in the cold air.

At this point I was extremely cold, but to put thermal tights on would’ve cost too much waiting time for the rest of the team, so I braved it out. I knew we would start with a long, draggy 13 km, 140 m climb up and over Weighton Wold, ideally suited to warming up on fixed gear. As we started the climb, I could see the two geared riders dropping backwards. Halfway up I turned back to ride up with Nigel, definitely fatigued, allowing Alex and Pich to keep on up the hill and I knew they’d wait for us at the turn-off into Market Weighton, if only I could cajole Nigel over the hill. No words spoken, I just gave Nigel a light to follow, even if at times he couldn’t keep close to it.

There are many factors to fatigue: lack of available energy, dehydration, sleepiness, saddle sores, low sodium level, hunger, tummy troubles, need a pee, and on and on. Endurance riders have to experiment to learn how to tell the difference. And everybody is different — it’s hard to read another rider’s fatigue, but a guess at sleepiness, dehydration and low-sodium is a good start, so I offered Nigel some sodium-plus-caffeine-tabs for his bidon, which he took.

Nigel at Market Weighton, the final control before York

And there we were: 30 km to go and 2.5 hours to do it. Time for a coffee at the services? No way was I going to let the team stop now! Our pace had dropped to around 20 km/h and we had to work with what we had, so I declined the offer and pushed the team on. It was now the final main-road shortcut all the way to the finish — the weight of the traffic was bearable, like the A10 to Royston very early Saturday morning, but any heavier and it would be horrible.

Unexpectedly, Nigel found his legs and disappeared off the front of the group on his own, perhaps the tablets, perhaps something else. When this happens it’s usually a temporary situation, so better to burn slower and longer; I chased him down and steadied his pace, giving him a wheel to follow at a stately 22 km/h directly into the wind. Ten minutes later and he’d dropped back into the group.

The final 20km to York just seemed to go on and on — the ring road took forever to appear on the horizon, especially into what was now a slightly abated, but more annoying, headwind, but once over the ring road, with still over an hour left, we knew we had done it, we could walk it from here. Alex started joking about punctures, tempting fate …

A few sets of traffic lights and a straight-on thru the old Walm Gate to enter the defensive walls of York, then a left to cut across what’s now a residential area within the walls to the Postern Gate diagonally opposite, and we’re there — Wetherspoon’s Postern Gate, open for breakfast and expecting possibly 150 tired and hungry cyclists over the next few hours. We were the first team in and had the pick of the place, but groups of cyclists continued to turn up over the course of the next few hours and we might’ve filled the place!

415 km (258 miles) in 23 hours — the 24th hour was in the pub at the finish — on less than 19 hours’ riding. We managed to sit down for a leisurely breakfast, lunch, and dinner and a half-decent supper, which was exactly to plan, as the weather had been relatively kind — I’ll take a stiff crosswind over a headwind any day!

Thoughts on the ride from Alex

Alex writes: I’d only ridden one 400 km audax before, and afterwards I thought I’d never do one again – it’s such an unpleasant distance with its final hours dominated by sleep deprivation: much better to ride a 600, when there’s time for a rejuvenating sleep!

So a chief goal for this ride was to avoid the “dawn dip” which I achieved through being well rested beforehand and drinking caffeinated drinks through the night. I also think riding the final 120km without a proper stop worked well. If I’d got comfy somewhere it would probably have been unpleasant/impossible to restart. This is my lesson: when pushing on for a proper rest, push on all the way and don’t treat yourself to an interim stop as it will likely kybosh you. Oh, but also remember that doing this into actual doziness is dangerous. Balances, balances.

As well as being a journey to York this was also, for me, a journey to somewhere outside my comfort zone: I didn’t think I would be able to ride for so long at a brisk pace and left to my own devices would have taken a much more conservative approach on the road – which may not have been enough to finish the ride in time. I feel I’ve found an extra gear as a cyclist – so thanks to Nick for pushing me.

Given the nagging wind it was great also to work as a team and have the help of Pichy and Nick who were often just in front functioning as a wind-shield. In particular it was marvellous to ride those final 20 km to York into a block headwind hiding in Pichy’s wind-shadow while he tapped out a steady 22 km/h – our “secret weapon” was powerful indeed!

And finally, thanks to Nick for all his efforts captaining the team. As well as all the organization and paper work I felt this was a good route from Cambridge that had the advantage of previewing LEL. In particular I am in awe of Nick’s ability to stay frosty and on top of decision-making on all aspects of the ride even in the small hours of the morning after nearly a day on the road. Chapeaux all round!

Thoughts on the ride from Nigel

Nigel writes: The first 300 km of the ride (Cambridge to Louth) was hard work, tiring and, as is so often the case when riding with others, much faster than I would have ever managed on my own. But the final 100 km from there to York was probably the toughest I have ever done, with an intense attack of sleepiness leaving me feeling disoriented and totally devoid of energy. If I had been on my own I would have certainly stopped for a lie down by the side of the road, though – as Nick firmly explained at the time – it was much too cold (5°C) to sleep and all it would have achieved was to put our timely arrival in jeopardy. So for a couple of hours I plodded on behind the others, hoping I wasn't slowing them down too much, and wondering when the right time would be to tell them to go ahead without me. When we stopped to control in Beverley, Nick revealed that he was taking caffeine tablets: would I like some? He popped a couple in my water bottle, and I glugged down about half of the resulting sweet fruity fluid. I struggled on to the penultimate control at Market Weighton. This felt like my lowest point, and I slid down to the ground beneath the ATM to close my eyes for a minute or so. But we had only 30km left to go, and as we made our way out of town I suddenly found myself feeling stronger, and I realised that I was going to make it.

I'm not sure whether it was those caffeine tablets kicking in at last, or the sky getting lighter, or perhaps simply the terrain getting flatter, but my sleepiness subsided and my speed increased sharply. Pichy caught me up and exclaimed pleasure at my “Lazarine recovery”. I started to flag once more as we approached the outskirts of York, but I was able to keep up with the others as we entered the City Centre and made our way to The Postern Gate. As I spotted the pub at the end of the street I shouted with delight that “I never thought this moment would arrive”. But it had arrived, and with a whole hour to spare.

I did a 400 km Audax last year (the same as Alex), and also a 600 km, and I had no particular difficulties on either. I now realise that I had been lucky on those rides, and have discovered quite how tough these long distances can be. On the other hand, this particular ride would always be a hard one, with a time limit much shorter than the usual for a 400, and with low temperatures taking their toll overnight.

Thoughts on the ride from Nick

Nick writes: For most audax riders, the 400 km distance is the hardest, because it’s too long to avoid riding through the night and yet too short to accumulate enough time-in-hand for a decent sleep. Add to that the fact that for this Easter Arrow event we were targeting 400 km in 24 hours — nearly three hours quicker than we would have to ride it on a normal audax event — and that we had to ride it as a team, then it was always going to be a struggle.

Captain and crew

In the end the team rode together well. While Alex, Nigel and myself know each other reasonably well, Pichy was a last-minute addition to the team and an unknown quantity for Alex and Nigel, as they were to him, but, if anything, that helped.

It was clear that the presence/absence of gears across the team brought an extra dimension to the riding. The unrelenting flatness of the Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire Fens plays to the metronomic strengths of the fixed-gear bikes, and the heavier rides atop them, so for much of the time Pichy and I shared the duties on the front of the group, as I expected we would. However, once we hit the sudden, but expected, climbs up the side of the Lincolnshire Wolds to get to Louth then the two plastic, geared bikes — with significantly lighter riders — disappeared up into the darkness, leaving us heavier fixed riders to our grunting and gurning; both of us had to concede defeat and walk for a few hundred of the steepest metres, and the other two had to wait several minutes at the top for us to catch up.

Towards the end everyone was tired in both the legs and the head, but together we manage to keep our resolve to finish within the time limit. It was a proud moment for me to see the team achieve what it set out to do, without any real dramas, and pretty much to plan. We weren’t lucky with the weather — but we weren’t that unlucky either.

Chapeau to each of the members of the team for a ride well ridden! Bring on Easter 2018 — perhaps we’ll manage to get TWO teams riding from Cambridge?!

Sunday, 21 May 2017

21 May: Sunday ride to Hare Street and Thaxted

Nigel writes: There was a feel of early summer today, with warm sunshine for the whole of the day. Warm enough for me to set off to Brookside with exposed arms and knees for the first time this year. And about time too, given that we're in the second half of May. When I arrived at Brookside I found Alex, Eva, Tom, Cheryl, Joseph, John P on his first ride with us, Andy and Sarah.

Brookside

Our leader today was Sarah, with Andy acting as co-leader. The first stage of today's ride would take us to one of our most distant coffee stops in the village of Hare Street. To get there they led us west out of Cambridge along the Barton Road cycleway to Barton, where we turned left to Haslingfield.

Being overtaken on Chapel Hill, Haslingfield

We climbed Chapel Hill before dropping back down to Barrington. On the hill we were overtaken by a group of faster cyclists, the first of many others cycling groups that we met during the morning.

Approaching Shepreth

Fowlmere

We continued to Shepreth, crossed the A10 to Fowlmere and continued south to Chrishill Grange. Here our first climb of the day begun, the long but very gentle climb to Chrishall. Once at the top we maintained our elevation through Heydon, climbing very slightly to reach Great Chishill, the highest village in Cambridgeshire.

Great Chishill

There were so many other cyclists around in Great Chishill that it was clear that there was some kind of event going on. This was the Paul Simon Homes Road Race, which was based at the Village Hall.

We ignored the marshalls and continued straight across at the crossroads to drop down onto the glorious roller-coaster that took us down to Shafenhoe End. There we turned left for Nuthampstead.

Between Shaftenhoe End and Nuthampstead

Between Shaftenhoe End and Nuthampstead

Between Shaftenhoe End and Nuthampstead

We continued through Nuthampstead to Anstey and on via Great Hormead to Hare Street. Along the way we encountered riders on another cycling event. This was clearly a different event: unlike the riders earlier these ones didn't display race numbers on their bikes, and they seemed a bit slower. I stopped to ask a marshall. This was a charity bike ride for Isabel Hospice, with a choice of 50km or 100km rides (ha!)

We stopped for coffee at the March Hare cafe. It was very busy, with several large groups of cyclists already there. Although there was plenty of space to sit, and the staff seemed to be working as quickly as they could, they were clearly a bit overwhelmed and some of us had to wait quite a long time for our refreshments.

Coffee at the Match Hare Cafe, Hare Street

Afterwards we set off again, this time heading east towards our lunch stop in Thaxted.

Between Furneaux Pelham and Manuden

We reached Thaxted at about 1.30pm, which I thought perfectly reasonable on a two-stop ride. We stopped for lunch at Parrishes Restaurant. It was very quiet when we went in. They seemed pleased to see us, and directed us to the large table that Sarah had reserved for us earlier. Adrian was already installed and eating his lunch.

Lunch at Parrishes Restaurant, Thaxted

Thaxted

After lunch we set off back north to Cambridge. We followed the B184 to Saffron Walden, where the ride appeared to disperse. Andy and Sarah had invited us all to tea at their house in Great Chesterford, but when I reached it I found that only John and I had taken up the offer. After a very pleasant cup of tea and slice of cake John and I continued back to Cambridge via Ickleton, Hinxton and Whittlesford.

Thaxted

I arrived back in Cambridge just after 5pm, having cycled 118 km (73 miles).
Nigel Deakin



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Thursday, 18 May 2017

18 May: Thursday ride to Newmarket and West Stow

Edward writes: When we met in Hauxton the weather was set fair for us. After yesterday's very welcome deluge, today we enjoyed very calm conditions and there being almost no wind made for almost ideal riding conditions. Back in the city Rupert was in charge of a group of nine whilst back in Hauxton Susan assumed command of thirteen for our ride out to Newmarket for coffee and then on to West Stowe for our lunch break. Before we left we had a chance to welcome Sarah who was making her debut on a Thursday having previously been out on a Sunday afternoon ride.

Hauxton

Susan promised us that the ride to Newmarket would be 26 miles and a further 14 miles to West Stowe. Soon after leaving Hauxton we ran into the familiar Great Shelford problem of a lengthy wait at the level crossing.

Waiting for a train in Shelford

After the crossing it was the DNA path and a short diversion through the Ninewells housing development before beginning the climb from Worts Causeway over the Gogs into Fulbourn. This was soon followed by the Wilbrahams, Bottisham and both the Swaffhams. This was a familiar route to most of us as we made for Reach, Burwell and Exning and entering Newmarket by way of Hamilton Road which hosts many of the horse racing facilities. We arrived at the Horse Racing Museum at about 11.50 am to find that the city group had fled and flown.

Newmarket

Newmarket

We had coffee booked in the Tack Room but it seems that the Tack Room and the little kiosk outside are part of the same organisation so it doesn’t matter where you buy your coffee. As we were a bit late in arriving Susan cracked the whip and we were on the road again at 12.40 and this took us on the road to Moulton which starts with a long climb out of Newmarket going past the Gallops.

Moulton to Gazeley

Moulton to Gazeley

Once at the top we were able to appreciate the fabulous countryside and as we passed the hedgerows the scent of the mayflower was very strong. Not only that some of the wild flowers are starting to show in the grass verges, at least those that the local council hasn't put a mower through.


We climbed past the pack horse bridge to Gazeley where we turned and went through Needham Street and under the A14 near Kentford. We now entered tree-lined roads which gave us welcome protection from the sun and more pleasant country lanes brought us to Lackford and two or three more miles we arrived at West Stowe for our lunch break where we finally caught up with those city slickers already enjoying their lunch.

West Stow

Most of the Hauxton group had sandwiches and sat outside on the benches. Soon after 2 pm both groups set off within a few minutes of each other with Susan’s group heading east before turning south going via Flempton and Risby where we crossed the A14. Although the breeze was against us it was so slight it was barely noticeable which was very different to recent rides when the wind has seemed to have blown continuously, and cold with it.


We continued to make good progress through Little Saxham, Barrow, Dalham, Ashley all the way down to Dullingham.

Ashley

After we climbed out of Dullingham on the way to West Wratting we were treated to the sight of a Barn Owl just ahead of us - what a treat. In fact this was about the time the weather started to change as some dark clouds started to appear in from of us and it became a question of would we make it home before it rained. As we left Balsham on the way down to Hildersham the first spots of rain started to fall although it was so light it hardly mattered. We finished our ride through Abington, Babraham, Sawston and Stapleford and by this time the rain was a bit heavier. The ride finished in Hauxton at 5.20 pm and those doing the full circuit would have cycled a very pleasant 78 miles. Our thanks to Rupert and from those who started from Hauxton a special thanks to Susan as she had worked hard in devising today's ride and was always mindful of everybody’s position in the group. Edward Elmer



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Sunday, 14 May 2017

14 May: Sunday afternoon ride to Wicken

David S writes: After a difficult week for me ("Two funerals and a ...") I woke up on a boat on the River Orwell on Sunday morning to rain showers and a looming problem about getting back in time to lead the ride! Fortunately everything worked out (just) and I met Neil S, Ray M, and two new Sunday afternoon riders Jeff B and Sara H (both experienced and fit riders). With only one navigation mistake, we got quickly out of Cambridge to Chery Hinton and Fulbourn and, thanks to a flat route and a partial tailwind we headed through Wilbrahams and Upware to Wicken at an average of 13mph.

Mark, Lali, Jeff, Sara, Ray, Neil

The Methodist Chapel provided a delicious tea (my favourite tea stop!) where we were joined by Lalita and Mark, who had arrived late at Brookside and followed us to Wicken. As we were leaving, the all-day ride arrived and John ? took a photo of all seven of us (to follow?). Strong headwind slowed us down on the return ride, but with warm sunshine and beautiful views, we forgave everything as we cycled through Burwell, Swaffhams, Quy (NCN 51). The Leader then appointed Ray as Acting Deputy Leader and shamefully deserted his lovely team! They returned along the river, while he cycled home alone along Airport Way.

A perfect Spring ride! David Secher



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Thursday, 11 May 2017

11 May: Thursday ride to St Neots and Kimbolton

Edward writes: The much-longed-for change in the weather finally arrived today. After weeks of the wind being in the north-east it had finally shifted to a more pleasant south easterly direction. As often happens the change is quite sudden and with it came a big rise in humidity. With blue skies and sun it also brought a change in attire with many getting into shorts for the first time this year. Those still wearing longs found it a bit hot to say the least. Out at Haslingfield there were thirteen riders and back in the city Dr John led his group for our long ride out to Kimbolton by way of St Neots.

Preparing to leave Haslingfield

Mindful that this would be one of our longer rides, from Haslingfield we took a direct route out to St Neots which meant Harlton, the Eversdens, Kingston and Bourn. All this came with helpful assistance from the following wind. We took a short break in Bourn to allow for some "stripping off" and some much needed water.

Bourn

Caxton

Then it was straight through to St Neots passing Caxton, Great Gransden and Abbotsley before arriving in St Neots a minute or two after 11am and found four or five who had cycled out independently. Five minutes later the city group arrived swelling the numbers at coffee to about thirty. The Ambiance Cafe had no trouble dealing with all the tea, coffee and cakes they had to serve.

Coffee at St Neots

After coffee both groups opted to follow John's route to Kimbolton and we left the cafe in two groups but not before many chose to head for home. With roughly seven or eight in each group we headed west to Duloe before turning south to make for Colesden. We were now into the best part of our ride; the countryside was at its best, with blossom everywhere and the occasional sounds of skylarks. And the mere fact that the sun was shining and it was warm made all the difference.

A little after Colesden we turned north, still being helped by the following wind, and went through Colmworth and onto Little Staughton. Pertenhall came next and Kimbolton was almost in sight but first we had to deal with Averil's puncture, and where was Mike when we needed him? But we managed and Mike's tuition must have rubbed off as we were soon on our way again enabling us to arrive in Kimbolton at about 1.15pm after 35 miles.

Lunch followed the usual pattern with about eight going into Oliver's for their meal and a similar number eating their sandwiches in the church cemetery!

We all met again in Oliver’s for tea ready to start the return journey at 2.30pm. Both groups started out by travelling east along the B645 as far as the turning for Dillington which, after a couple of steep climbs, took us up to Perry beside Grafham Water.

Now on the B661 we headed to Buckden and the parting of the ways with John's group going home by way of Huntingdon, the Hemingfords and the busway while the South Cambs group opted for the Offords (no wait at the level crossing) and then Graveley.

Graveley

The journey home soon became a repeat of the outward ride and we arrived back in Haslingfield at 5pm, 66 miles after leaving it in the morning. Edward Elmer



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Tuesday, 9 May 2017

9 May: Ride in the Derbyshire Peak District (Car-assisted)

John S writes: This turned out to be a very select group of riders – just Mike C, Adrian and I met in Shelford to set off at 6.30am. I had been on two previous car-assisted rides in the Peak District, but these had been on Sundays when there is light traffic, so I was not really looking forward to the drive up the M1 through the rush-hour traffic on a weekday. As it turned out, apart from a five-minute hold-up to get off the M1 onto the A50 near Nottingham, we encountered no hold-ups at all.

We arrived in Tissington around 9.15 and unloaded the bikes. The skies were leaden, and it was quite chilly, so we looked to be facing a cold day in the saddle. Adrian led us off down the Tissington Trail for a short distance to turn off at Thorpe, and head towards Ilam at the end of Dovedale, passing from Derbyshire into Staffordshire. We found a lost lamb in the road and chased it back through a gap into a field. A retired farmer then came along and started to freely share his views on Brexit, immigration, and the world in general. After about 10 minutes of hoping another car would come along to make him move on, we made our excuses and set off again.

The road becomes a farmyard at Throwley Hall

We climbed to Throwley Hall where the road passes through a farmyard, and then climbed up Mere Hill and then down again to Greensides where we joined the Manifold Trail, which follows the path of the Leek and Manifold railway – a narrow gauge railway that was only briefly open between 1904 and 1934 - up the river valley. The river bed was completely dry, and we took this as a sign of drought, but it turns out that except in times of peak flow, the river water follows a separate underground path, which explains why there was water in the river further upstream but not lower down.

Cold and dark on the top of Mere Hill

On the Manifold Trail near Wettonmill

We stopped for coffee at Wettonmill, in a café that somehow managed to be colder inside than it was outside.

Grey skies at Wettonmill café

From there we continued along the trail and through a tunnel in the direction of Hulme End. Here we re-joined the roads, and passed through the intriguingly named Glutton Bridge. I had done the same ride, but in reverse, over 4 years ago, so it was interesting to see familiar junctions and go up and down the hills from the other direction.

Emerging from tunnel on the Manifold Trail

We crossed the busy A515 near Harpur Hill on the outskirts of Buxton, and descended through Cowdale to briefly join the A6 before getting on to the Monsall Trail near Millers Dale. This follows the path of the old line from Buxton to Derby, through the Wye valley. The trail passes through rocky valleys, and has many tunnels which are now lit, and over the spectacular viaduct at Monsall Head.

On the Monsall Trail near Bakewell

I stopped to try out the information point, which is powered by turning a handle, and offers spoken information about the line, and plays a song too. This has worked for years, sitting outside in all weathers, and needs no power or network connection – a sort of post-apocalyptic iPod.



We stopped for lunch at the café / bookshop in the old station building at Hassop. We then left the trail in Bakewell, where we took a steep climb out of the valley and then headed south along switchback roads. Near Youlgreave, Adrian stopped at a gate into a field full of sheep, and convinced us that this was in fact a byway that avoided a steep and difficult bit of road. Even by Adrian’s standards, this was towards the rough end of rough-stuff!

Off road and under blue skies

We continued on through Brassington, where we passed a rental house I had stayed in nearly 20 years ago, where the seeds of my daughter’s aversion to cycling with me were first sown. I still maintain that it is very character-forming for a three year old to be taken out on a bike in a child seat in freezing temperatures.

We had seen the reservoir at Carsington Water shimmering in the distance, and were soon nearby. Adrian and Mike had told me about a café there called the Pudding Room, which sounded very exciting. I was therefore bitterly disappointed when we found we were 15 minutes too late, and this was compounded by the menu in the window listing all the delicacies we had just missed.

We continued through Bradbourne to cross a ford and then make the final climb back to Tissington, where we arrived just after 6pm and set off home. The return journey was just as easy in terms of traffic, and even the A14 from Huntingdon was flowing freely by the time we got back.

The final climb of the day back to Tissington

We rode about 55 miles and climbed lots of hills. Thanks to Adrian for arranging this great day out and leading us on a fantastic route. Although we had an early start and a long day, it made a nice change to ride somewhere different, and climb some real hills. John Seton



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