At exactly this time last year I joined some of my WaterAid colleagues on a ride to Cambridge. So, on a bit of a whim, I decided to do the same trip again, only this time alone and starting from New Cross rather than Tottenham Hale station – adding an extra 16km.
And this year I was hopeful of getting into Cambridge in time for the FA Cup Final kick off… Last year we arrived only just in time to see Arsenal win with a dramatic late goal (after seeing them go 2-0 down in the first five minutes, in a pub somewhere in southern Cambridgeshire…)
First off, cycling from New Cross up to Tottenham Hale is a long old urban ride. Traffic on Saturday morning is fine, but the stop-start of the long, straight Kingsland Road / A10 is pretty annoying. So. Many. Traffic. Lights. It’s pretty funny cycling through Dalston though in my, ahem, ‘gear’, past all the hipsters heading to Ridley Road to pick up some authentic veg from the authentic market.
So nearly an hour has gone before I’ve even got to the start point of last year’s ride. Also, last year someone else was doing the navigating and I was just following the crowd (there were about 10 of us). This year, I’m half trying to do it by memory from that trip and half by a MapMyRide route downloaded to my phone the night before after a couple of glasses of wine. I guess this is a bit of a learning curve: just because someone’s uploaded a route doesn’t mean it’s any good!
Cycling along the canal towpath is confusing enough – at each loch gate or bridge I can’t quite remember which side of the canal I should be on. It’s generally not at all obvious. Navigating through the Lee Valley Regional Park is also far trickier than it should be. Give me Laos again any day, with its one road!
I have a distinct memory from last year of a section of the ride where it widens out into a big concrete path under a set of double electricity pylons. This year, I miss this bit completely but do end up cycling past the electricity sub-station where the pylons eventually head to! The pylons follow the course of the canal for a few miles, so although keeping them in sight means I’m going in the right direction, that’s about as good as my navigation skills get today.
At one point I pick up National Cycle Route 1 but the signs for it are pretty bad and I end up cycling through a housing development, then eventually back into the Park. I’m just glad I’m not leading a group of cyclists relying on me to get it right. More than once I have to turn back and try again. At least on your own you’ve only got yourself to blame and only you are getting annoyed by your incompetence.
From Broxbourne I eventually manage to pick up last year’s route through to Rye House, passing through the same nondescript housing estate where 12 months ago there was a big UKIP poster in the window of one house (it’s funny what you do remember). Just after Rye House station I stop at Rye Meads Nature Reserve for lunch. The sun’s out by this point and it’s pretty glorious.
From here I cycle down Rye Road, (a toll road which I don’t remember) and eventually onto the Hunsdon Road, which leads to Widford and Much Hadham (which I definitely do remember). This route also goes very close to the Henry Moore Foundation, which I don’t remember being signposted and didn’t actually know was there until looking again at the map just now. Shame – it’s surely well worth checking out if it’s anything like the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
These are picture postcard villages – you will see a game of cricket in progress on the Green, tiny old churches and beautiful cottages that you kind of wish you could live in for a bit. The countryside is also pretty spectacular at this time of year – fields of green wheat blowing in the breeze, and the dazzling yellow of the oil seed rape. I’m reminded of PJ Harvey singing about beautiful England.
At some point along this road – the B1104 I think, road name fans – just before Clapgate (no, I’m not making these place names up), MapMyRide tells me to take a left and so, with idiotic obedience, I do. This is where I start to run into trouble. The road soon becomes a single lane and although it’s peaceful, rarely-visited countryside that I’m glad to have seen, the inevitable endgame is me cycling into someone’s back garden with a load of caged docks barking aggressively and a guy telling me that this definitely isn’t a public right of way. For reference, the place is called Chatter End and you can see the trouble I got into on my MapMyRide route here (just before my phone died..!)
I turn back and pick up the road again but head the other way. This time it ends in a place called Farnham Green; a big green field filled with yellow daisies, birdsong and a couple of farm buildings; it’s unexpectedly beautiful – one of the joys of cycling is you can end up in random places like this, sort of lost, but with no harm done.
Although there’s a very obvious ‘sign T’ (for dead end) street sign, the map says there’s a road, so I give it a go. It’s basically a tractor track through open fields (see main picture) which is only passable because the ground is pretty dry and solid. It’s a bumpy couple of kilometres ride and I’m very much expecting to be shot at or at the very least shouted at by an irate farmer, but luckily none are around. It’s also at this point that it dawns on me I have no puncture repair kit, no spare inner tube and no tools. Be prepared, yeah?
Eventually I arrive on the other side of a small river valley (luckily the Bourne Brooke is dry at this time of year), and gleefully pick up tarmac again, which leads downhill to a village called Manuden. Here, there’s some kind of scarecrow competition going on, with several stuffed monstrosities lining the streets, including a pretty impressive interpretation of Harry Potter and friends, suspended from wires sticking out of a cottage roof. Ah, village life!
From here I am BACK ON TRACK and cruise on through Clavering, Arkensden and on to Elmdon via a brilliant single track road called Clanver End (passing signs for Maggot’s End and Little London along the way). It’s steep for a bit and it’s at this point I put the music on (Nobody’s Empire, obviously, bringing back memories of riding through Vietnam).
It’s also on this section of the ride that I start to notice other cyclists; they are almost exclusively male, serious, in their 30s or 40s, lycra-clad, on expensive road bikes, and clearly ‘getting away from it all’ for the day – whatever the ‘it’ might me. Maybe I’m One Of Them Now Too.
Single male cyclists have, I quickly learn, a habit of grunting acknowledgement as they pass, so I enthusiastically join in. It’s not quite the same as hundreds of kids shouting and waving at you, but it’s better than nothing. In fact, I think I pass about three kids all day – the demographic differences between the UK and SE Asia are staggering – or maybe there are loads of kids in this country, they’re all just indoors watching TV.
From here it’s over the M11 and the home straight to Cambridge, via Ickleton, Duxford and Great Shelford – at which point I finally pick up last year’s route again. I roll into Cambridge tired, although definitely not as tired as last year (maybe I’m fitter or maybe it’s the better bike), and with 110km on the clock – definitely a lot more than last year!
And, seven hours after setting off from south London, I’m just in time to watch the first (of four) Arsenal goal being scored. Result!
So, it was a fun ride; not too hilly, almost completely traffic free once on that first tow-path in Tottenham, and definitely recommended.
Total stats for the day: Distance: 115.4km, av. 18.6km/hr, max. 44.1km/hr (cycling down Jerningham Road in New Cross!) Calories burned: 1,526. Total time on bike: 6 hrs 12 mins.