CTC ride to Whitwell


Somehow I slept through my alarm this morning, so when I woke and looked at the clock it was already 08:16. I leapt out of bed, threw on my clothes, jumped on my bike, and pedalled as fast as I could into the stiff south-westerly wind, arriving at Brookside a couple of minutes late. Luckily Alex was still patiently waiting for me.

The wind was blowing at about 30 km/h from the southwest, and there was an intermittent light drizzle, so we put our heads down and ground away slowly westwards, through Barton, Comberton, Toft, and Bourn. The road from Bourn to Caxton had been newly dressed with loose aggregate chippings, so we made our way gingerly along here, trying not to skid in the occasional deep pile of gravel. The same treatment had been applied between Great Gransden and Waresley. I guess it’s a cheap form of road maintenance, but it’s really unpleasant for cycling on, and it was a relief to get back onto smooth roads at Waresley.

When we last cycled to Whitwell, just over a year ago, there was such a tailwind that we were in Southill by 10:10, but today we were a long way behind that kind of schedule! The planned coffee stop was at Farrowby Farm near Hinxworth, but we found the road closed near Edworth. As usual when a road is closed, we persevered in case we could get through, but our way was blocked by a man from the water company who told us that there was a burst water main and the road was deeply flooded between us and Edworth. This was frustrating because we were within five kilometres of Farrowby Farm, but to go back and take another route would be more than twenty kilometres, unless we dared cycle down the A1.

I decided that under these circumstances it wasn’t worth going to Farrowby Farm at all (there was no day ride to meet there), and to go to Jordan’s Mill instead. This was about nine kilometres away, but it was in the general direction of Whitwell, so it wasn’t wasted distance. At the café we met the Touring group from the Cambridge Cycling Club.

After coffee, the wind was blowing just as hard as ever as we headed west through Broom and Shefford. Coming out of Shefford on the road to Meppershall, there’s a short steep climb, which tops out with a stunning view over a valley to the edge of the Chiltern escarpment, with Deacon Hill, Butts Hill, Wayting Hill and Barton Hill laid out clearly from east to west. Hidden behind Butts Hill is the 155 metre Gravel Hill, and a steep lane climbs to the very summit. After working into the wind all morning, this was quite tough, but at least it was sheltered by trees. After Gravel Hill, the road descends to Lilley Bottom, and then crosses the Icknield Way, turning sharply left out of the wind, and we made quick work of the remaining eleven kilometres to Whitwell and lunch, getting there about 13:30. Emily’s Tea Shop fuelled us up with hot mugs of tea and toasted sandwiches, and we set off again into the drizzle.

The next section of the ride, from Whitwell to Whempstead was wholly new to me. It’s always interesting to explore new roads, especially with a tailwind. The B656 was busy at Codicote, but we dodged through some back streets and emerged onto quiet hilly roads (with no signposts) to Pottersheath, crossed over the A1(M) and under the East Coast main line to Woolmer Green, and then got into the big chainring for the descent to Watton at Stone. The map showed a track heading east towards Whempstead, so we gave it a try, and found a useful bridleway: clearly once upon a time the main road to Whempstead, but now cut in two by the A602 as it bypasses Watton at Stone.

The rain was falling steadily as we made our way on familiar roads to Dane End. We crossed the A10 at Puckeridge using a narrow ginnel that I’ve previously failed to find (possibly it gets overgrown during the summer), and arrived at the church hall at Braughing at about 15:45, about ten minutes before the afternoon riders appeared. As always, there was an amazing selection of cakes, making it very hard to choose just one.

We stuck together for the ride back, taking the scenic route across the north Essex hills, through the Pelhams, Meesden, the Langleys and Elmdon. I was home at about 18:45, having ridden 168 km (104 miles). Thank you to Alex for keeping me company and doing some valuable turns into the wind.

It was very encouraging to see some new riders on the afternoon ride: especially since Braughing is one of our most distant tea stops, so it would have been a tough first ride for them. But maybe by next year they’ll be coming on the longer rides.