Thursday, 28 April 2011

Cambridge to Hitchin via Potton

I have only been grabbing short one hour cycles for the last couple of weeks. The children have been on their Easter holidays so cycling has been between family time, plus the good weather means my good lady wants to get some fitness rides in too which means I am competing for spare time. I have been gagging for a longer ride.

Easter Sunday meant a family meet up at the in-laws near Hitchin. This is conveniently 60km away which is a good 2hr road ride and quite nicely burns enough calories that I can enjoy a lot of the excellent food on offer.

Normally, I do the trip one way via an excellent route via Cambridge, Ashwell, Baldock, and Letchworth. I'll report on this separately in my next post. Normally, I get a lift in the car on the other leg.

This time however, I decided it was time to up the challenge now I have a road bike (£250 ebay bargain and not stolen!).

This time I would cycle both ways! (my max distance in one day was 107km and this will be 125km).

Upgraders are always selling Aluminium framed road bikes for a better model. Carbon forks are worthwhile to take the sting out of road buzz.

I wanted to take a different route on the way to make it more interesting so I spent quite some time trying to plan a route on BikeRouteToaster. This is the route I cam up with:

BikeRouteToaster Route: Cottenham, Potton, Stotfold, Ickleford(nr Hitchin).
67km, with 227m of ascending.

I must say that, the centre area of the map provides a lot of excellent on road cycling, especially if you like a few undulations. Most traffic follows the main roads leaving the back lanes quiet. The good area is the entire triangle bordered by the A14, A1, and A505 or Cambridge, Huntingdon, Baldock (next to Letchworth on the map).

The difficulty I had was how to cross the A1 (north of Letchworth and Baldock), and balancing that with a good cycle route West of the A1. What I wanted was a route from Sandy or Biggleswade heading South to Hitchin, but my knowledge of the roads was not good enough to want to risk using the B roads.

Overall, I enjoyed the route, especially east of the A1. Once on the west side it got a bit fiddly on NCN through Letchworth, trashing my hard earned average speed.

The 67km took me 2 hours and 20 minutes, averaging 29km/h. I had the average at 29.9km/h before I hit Letchworth. I definitely think about average speeds too much, but its what keeps me fit.

Here are the highlights of the trip:

Oakington to Longstanton Airfield road.

Normally this 'no motor vehicles except ...' road (also NCN) has a lot of motor cars all ignoring the traffic signs. (And they probably complains about cyclists ignoring traffic lights etc). Just for once, I saw more cyclists on this road than cars. What a joy.

Caxton Gibbet cycle path.

It's not the most glamorous of locations but this path surprised me.

(Click to see in Cycle Streets)

It runs parallel to the A428 but is separated by some 20 metres. I was upwind, but the traffic noise was incredibly low. The separation felt a little Dutch in style and was a great smooth path to cycle on.

I guess this was put in to help residents of Cambourne get to the Papworth Hospital (famous for Heart and Lung operations). Its a shame the cycle path dumps you onto the A1198. That'll encourage new cyclists (err not).

So, the path works as a prototype, now they need to build more of it.

Roadside memorial

This is really a bit of a low point. Somewhere after Caxton (Gransden or Waresley?), on a road between villages I came across a home made wooden cross with a motorcycle helmet placed on top. It had pink stripes so I guessed that a young teenage girl riding a scooter had sadly lost their life here.

I often notice flowers placed by the roadside which makes me stop and think, but as a society road deaths just don't seem to be treated seriously enough. Road deaths seem to be acceptable to so many until their family is affected. I would be all for more obvious markers like a painted skull and cross bones on the road to help remind people in tin boxes to take more care.

Thatched Houses

One of the things I love about travelling by bike is that you get time to admire scenery. Britain has some great old buildings especially in the centre of most villages. Today, thatched houses caught my eye. Crow Tree Street in Gamlingay has a very fine selection.

(click to see more in Google StreetView)

Beautiful churches.

There were many churches on the route, but Gaminglay Church provided a particularly nice view as I passed: a lot of people were coming out very well dressed like it was a wedding, but this time it was Easter Sunday best.

(click to view in Google StreetView)

Crossing the A1 at Astwick

My chosen crossing point of the A1 was near Astwick. I chose this in favour of using a motorway style roundabout by bike. I wasn't the only person - another cyclists was crossing here too.

I paused a while to work out how much time I had to cross two lanes (of 4) of the A1. Each gap was actually only 5 seconds. This was on Easter Sunday morning and the cars looked quite well spaced. Crossing here would be impossible in rush hour.

There is so much traffic nowadays, these roads start to act like barriers as rivers can do, and can only be crossed where there is a bridge. Places on either side must feel really cut off from each other at times.

Lets not finish on a low point. That was a top ride with some great sun and great food for lunch. Mmmmmm. Refuelling for the next leg.

Continue to The return leg

1 comment:

  1. Re: safe A1 crossing points @ Sandy / Biggleswade; There is a foot bridge which isn't marked on googlemaps at Beeston (just south of Sandy), follow the river path from near the station, then along 'the Baulk'. Once over, there is a road out the back of Beeston which will take you through Northill, Ickwell, Old Warden (nice descent from Shutelworth front gate) and Southill - all lovely country villages and very quiet roads.