London to Cambridge Ride Report - August 2021
Ride leader Claire sends this report.
South Bank was quieter than the evening of the Whitstable ride; no hordes partying round the statue of Laurence Olivier. I contemplated leading my first big, out of London ride (taking over from Nick at Chingford) whilst wondering how my buddy Barry would enjoy his first London departure instead of the Ely based ones he usually does.
Co-leader Nick was the first Friday to arrive, followed by regulars appearing in ones and twos. Rob cycled down from Cambridge, looking completely fresh. We were catching up with people, discussing the ride plans, meeting newbies, studying bikes, comparing builds until it was time to step up with Nick onto the bench to give the safety briefing. Thankfully I didn’t have to compete with raucous noise in the background as Kim had to on the Whitstable jaunt.
Then we were off, steering bikes in the right direction from their layered bench parking; untangling drop bars and cables. With warm-up shouts of “Bollard!” heading out on to Upper Ground. James (who was riding wing with me) noticed someone pulled to one side with what appeared to be a flat tyre. So with a (boo) hiss, the ride won the prize for the earliest puncture after midnight. No, the tyre didn’t turn into a pumpkin. The main body of the ride gathered on Blackfriars Bridge for a Fridays Photography Club shoot whilst the TECs sorted this issue. Our first delay turned out to be a portent for the escape from London.
Multiple traffic lights, followed by an eyebrow raising stop-start route through Shoreditch’s night club district stretched the group out. For someone more used to road hazards of errant root vegetables, this was a navigational novelty on Old Street. I way-marked a gutter full of what we thought was glass but turned out to be shiny gas canisters. Up onto Lea Bridge Road cycle path travelling through the Central Line area, up to Whipps Cross where a rider unfortunately came off, after hitting a kerb. An amazing member of the public, a white van driver no less, happened to be passing by and helped out at the scene and took the rider, a friend and their bikes to the local hospital. Fortunately the injuries were minor and the rider is recovering well.
The ride regrouped, working on plan B and back to plan A again. We encountered foxes casually wandering the city streets whilst cats scurried across away from the peculiar talking wheeled humans. Getting deep into Central Line territory of Leytonstone - I didn’t realise at the time that we were cutting a line through my misspent early 20s!
Negotiating the roundabouts of the North Circular (shudder), I took over as ride leader at Chingford, just as we reached Epping Forest. Out onto straight open roads, we left the traffic lights behind and focussed on climbing the gentle incline through the trees to Epping, where the cloudy night obscured the water tower from view. Past the North Weald crit circuit and par three council golf course - no we didn’t stop to partake in either. Perhaps it could be used for a game of 2am bike polo in future? Hitting the first comfort break at 3am, we found the entrance to the petrol station barricaded with flowers so alternative shrubbery based arrangements were made. Of course I found the nettles…..
Roads became lanes, tree lined and eerily lit by the peloton’s bike lights. Winding along, silent villages with names alternating between ‘Greens’ and ‘Tyes’, riders chatting about the next N+1, route planning and most importantly, cakes. We paused at Matching for the splendid church, then did a U-turn in a farmyard to tackle some bridleway. Round the bend, peering into the darkness of a lake by the “Beware Swans in Road” sign. There were no swans - we speculated on the presence of pike, as feathers floated on the water’s murky surface. Gathered up, we dog legged round Hatfield Heath, no cafe stop this time, down into Bishop’s Stortford by the Art Deco pub on the corner and nasty potholes on the bend.
Sneaking in through the almost impenetrable pedestrian access to the delightful Birchanger Services at 5am, snacks and coffee were grabbed, picnics unpacked. We kept the stop efficient to make up some lost time. Back out by the golf course, round the roundabout a few times (my navigational skills do not cope well with one way systems or roundabouts), then out towards Hazel End and Manuden.
Undulating lanes, kicking climbs rewarded with easy descents as the sunrise peeked out from behind the clouds hovering over the rural landscape. Buzzards and Red Kite swooped over the fields, hunting breakfast as the peloton’s thoughts (and stomachs) turned to the Cambridge cafe stop. Traversing the ‘not-very-wet-actually’ ford at Clavering, we paused for photos, including one Friday jersey wearing rider posing for pics. I hope you were on commission!
After admiring the windmill at the top of the final actual hill, Little Chishill, around 7am, we descended to Flint Cross station and regrouped. Here we divided into ‘pacy’ and ‘relaxed’ to stagger our arrival at the cafe. I took the pacy group, Gordon led the relaxed group. My legs were surprisingly up for some speed and cranked almost 20 mph, but settled down for a more sensible pace, given my plans to ride onto King’s Lynn after breakfast.
Down the busway, getting a cheer from the Espresso Library ride group heading out for their Saturday ride, then dropping riders off at the train station for a timely connection. We made it to the cafe just before 8.30am, with our tables waiting for us outside along with Kim, who had travelled up on what must have been the first train from London after making sure that the earlier casualty was suitably looked after. Orders placed, coffees and builders’ teas were arriving as the the second group reached us. Porridge, pancakes and bacon butties soon followed.
Eventually belongings were gathered up, snacks tucked away for later, goodbyes said and we dispersed. Some to the train station, others to ride onwards, to home and further away.
An eventful ride, with a camaraderie that felt like a collective decision to make the most of the ride after the slow and eventful departure from London.