Today was the first time I’ve led a day ride, so I was quite nervous about it, and did a lot of preparation. I bought a map holder, planned a route and wrote out a route sheet.
It was an overcast morning, with a little drizzle. There were five riders at Brookside, and with coffee 23 miles away at Farrowby Farm near Hinxworth, I took the direct route, out on Barton Road, through Haslingfield, over Chapel Hill, through Shepreth, Bassingbourn, Litlington, Steeple Morden and Ashwell. On the way to Hinxworth we passed John and Greta and picked up Bob and Myrtle, and there were more riders waiting for us at the farm, some of whom had come up from Stevenage.
The selection of destinations made route-setting quite a challenge. Old Warden is only about 9 miles from Hinxworth, and Gamlingay only 9 miles from Old Warden. I wanted to take a big loop southwards into the Bedfordshire countryside west of Hitchin, but how to get across the A1? My first thought was to try to cross at grade next to Farrowby Farm. There’s a gap in the central reservation here that makes it possible. But Nigel convinced me that it would be too dangerous (Joseph said he had done it once, but had had to wait more than ten minutes before a gap appeared). So I decided to retrace our steps to Ashwell and then head down to Baldock and cross under the A1M on the road to Norton.
At Ashwell a byway over Partridge Hill provides a shortcut from Hinxworth Road to Claybush Road without going through town. It gets a bit muddy at the Claybush Road end—it wouldn’t be a good idea to try it in wet weather.
In the photo you can see that the clouds were getting pretty dark, and it wasn’t long before it rained, fairly gently, for about 20 minutes. But soon it passed over, and the rest of the afternoon was sunny.
At Snailswell I took a bridleway that crosses to Holwell and saves a couple of miles of A600. This is a good-quality track and quite suitable for road bikes.
The lanes north of Shefford are really gorgeous. At one point, a sparrowhawk flew right over us. This led to a discussion of raptors we had known, and I said that I had never seen a buzzard near Cambridge. At that moment, two buzzards flew low over the field on the right.
This loop took a bit longer than I was expecting, and we didn’t get to Old Warden until about 13:45. “So you got here at last,” said Greta. So I decided to compensate by cutting short the next section. I had planned to take a loop up to St Neots and back down again, but I didn’t think there was time for that. So I took a loop west over Greensand Ridge to Cardington and back again.
At Cardington the skyline is dominated by two enormous airship sheds. One was built in 1915 for the construction of the R31 and R32, two rigid airships intended for fleet defence. The other was originally built at Pulham in Norfolk and was dismantled and moved to Cardington in 1928. The scale of these sheds is quite extraordinary. My first view of them as I came over the ridge was obscured by trees, and I thought, “That’s a big barn.” But then they came properly into view, and it was clear that they were several miles away and huge.
We crossed the A1 at the roundabout at Sandy, and cycled up Cox Hill, which is a beautiful road. Shame about the “No vehicles” sign at the entrance. I presume this is a mistake and should have been “No entry to motor vehicles”, since there’s also a sign saying “No through road (except cycles)”.
The first sight of the Cardington airship sheds from Greensand Ridge.
Cox hill near Sandy.
The Cardington airship sheds.
I overestimated the time it would take for this leg about as severely as I had underestimated it for the previous leg (the westerly wind made short work of the return from Cardington), and at 16:00 we were at the Cock at Gamlingay. I tried to persuade the others to take a short loop and come back for tea, but they were keen to get home. And with 70 miles cycled from Brookside at this point, who can blame them? I took the loop on my own, through Great Gransden, Waresley, and Lily Hill, getting back just in time for tea.
I had 107 miles for the day.