I’ve ridden Nick Wilkinson’s Cambridge Pork Pie 200 twice before: in April 2015 with Nigel Deakin, and in March of this year, when I was defeated by rain, snow, hail and my own unfitness, and did not complete it. But it’s a great ride and well worth doing again.
It was a very hot day, 27 °C in the shade, and hotter than that under the sun which beat down for much of the ride. There was a light wind from the southeast, which made the first half of the ride relatively straightforward, and I arrived at Beans Café in Oundle (57 km) at 09:40.
I have been cycling to Oundle for several years, but it has always been a puzzle where to park my bicycle. The town has plenty of car parking spaces, but it does not seem to have any cycle parking at all, or at least none that I can find. The pavements are narrow, and I don’t want to block them with my bicycle in case someone needs to get past with a buggy or a wheelchair. The best place I’ve been able to find is to lean it against the steps leading up to the war memorial. But this year a notice has appeared from Oundle Town Council, saying “Cyclists: please show respect by not resting your bikes against the war memorial” (see photo at right). I have considered this request, and I disagree: I never rest my bike against the war memorial itself, only against one of the steps at its base; I don’t think this shows disrespect; but even if some people think it did, I’d rather inconvenience the dead than the living.
So I parked in my usual spot, and sat down with some coffee, whereupon a man came up and harrassed me for some time, shouting at me that I was “utterly disrespectful”. I wonder if this is really the best way to remember the dead of the Great War: by posting pettifogging rules and restrictions, by harrassing vistors to your town, and by not providing any cycle parking?
Anyway, getting away from that unpleasantness, north of Oundle the ride starts to get hilly, and there were many red kites taking advantage of an updraft on the southern slopes of the Welland valley. There were at least ten birds in this group, circling lazily over the wheat fields. The descent into the Welland valley is exhilarating, but on this ride what goes down must come up, and several steep climbs follow, but with the tailwind I made steady progress and reached Melton Mowbray (106 km) at 12:10.
The third leg of the ride is the hardest, starting with a climb out of Melton Mowbray up Gartree Hill. Here I found the single-track road blocked by a police car — the officers were providing water to a horse that had been picketed by the road to graze and then abandoned in the heat. I had to dismount to get round, and picked up some melted tar from the road on my left shoe, and then transferred this to the pedal, so that for the rest of the ride the two stuck together and it was slightly awkward to separate them.
On this leg there is a relentless series of steep climbs that made it very slow going, as the north–south route crosses a succession of west–east river valleys. The Ordnance Survey shows three climbs with a chevron, the first out of the valley of the River Gwash between Knossington and Braunston, the second up a ridge overlooking the River Chater between Braunston and Ridlington, and the third up from the River Foss between Ridlington and Bisbrooke. But the countryside is very pretty, with fields of wheat being harvested, and in each valley there’s a village with a small church with an outsize spire. I was wilting in the heat when I got to Oundle for the second time (158 km) at 15:00.
Welland Viaduct near Harringworth.
The fourth leg is much flatter, but with the wind in the southeast it was still tough going, and on the busway it was like cycling into a hot hairdryer and I was struggling at times to do more than 19 km/h. I drank the last drop of my water as I reached Girton (215 km) at 18:15, having completed the ride in 11 hours and 8 minutes, about 80 minutes faster than the first time I rode it. I had drunk five full bidons of water, plus drinks in cafés at all the controls.