There were only two of us at the start, the leader (me), and new rider Tony. It was a good day for cycling. Warm but not too hot, blue skies all around but clouds conveniently covering up the sun. Having spent a bit too much time on the B1368 recently, I took a circuitous route to coffee through Great Shelford, Duxford, Heydon, Great Chishill, Shaftenhoe End, and Nuthampstead, and we made good time, getting there about 10:40. Coincidentally this was the exact same route taken by the afternoon ride.
At Barkway Park Golf Club we sampled the toffee cupcakes, which are good value, at least if you measure in calories per penny. Here we were joined by another new rider, Ray.
How can I put these keen new riders off the club, I thought to myself? How about taking them down the muddiest lane in Hertfordshire? Well, that’s not exactly what I thought. In fact, I didn’t know that the lane was muddy at all. The pleasantly named Violets Lane is a narrow road heading south from Brent Pelham to Furneux Pelham, marked with “Ford” on my map. You’ve got to try these things out, haven’t you? It turns out that the reason the lane is marked “Ford” is because when it rains, a river runs down it. It wasn’t raining today, but the river had left behind a fine silty mud that coated our shoes and tyres and made its way from there onto panniers, water bottles, socks, brakes and other parts. Delightful. No doubt older and wiser riders in the club could have warned me against it.
If I had done a bit more research I would have found this video, which suggests that it was only because we’ve just had a long and exceptionally dry summer that we were able to get down the lane at all!
After Violets Lane, the next difficulty was crossing the A10. From Braughing we took the B1368 down to Puckeridge, but how do you get from there to Mentley Lane? It turns out that there’s no sensible way to do it. I think you must be meant to go down the A10 for a couple of miles to the roundabout with the A120 and then come back up again and turn left onto Mentley Lane. Well, no way! Instead we trespassed down a convenient concrete farm track, and once we were safely back on the public highway, there was no further difficulty getting to lunch. At Great Munden we saw some people sitting by the side of the road with a clipboard. “Is it an audax or a time trial?” I asked. “Audax,” came the reply. It must have been the Luton & Herts 150km ride organised by Simon Trott of the West London CTC. And sure enough, after another couple of miles, the first audaxers started to appear.
Church Farm at Ardeley (or maybe Ardley, as it says on the signposts?) was very nice, despite the wasps. I’d go there again. I have never seen such an elegantly presented croque madame.
For the afternoon part of the ride, a loop was clearly needed, since it’s only 11 miles from Ardeley to Royston. But interesting loops seemed in short supply when I was planning the ride. I thought about a big loop west of Stevenage, but it came out way over distance. Other plans were foiled by the need to recross the A10 or the A602 or A505. So instead I folded up a very wiggly ride in the lanes to the south of Ardeley, including a completely gratuitous loop around Whitehill Golf Club, which begins with a vicious little climb. After an hour and half of this, we found ourselves in Cromer, just a couple of miles from Ardeley.
It was here that I had to borrow a map from Tony. This ride circles an awkward corner where four Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 maps adjoin, and I had only remembered to bring three of them, leaving a gap from Rushden to Therfield. Luckily the road signs around here are pretty good, so I could probably have managed. From Therfield we took the delightful swoop down the hill past Royston Golf Club, and in no time we were sitting in Tina’s garden, very early indeed (about 16:20).
We had 87 miles for the day. I hope that Tony and Ray will forgive me once they wash their bikes, and will come out riding with us again.