Sunday 18 August 2013
In spite of a long list of invitees eventually it was only John and Eve who set off for this ride.
We had travelled to Knebworth by car, the train journey being too complicated as it involved an underground transfer in central London which without folding style bikes was a non starter. The car journey was about an hour, slightly extended by missing a turning on the M25; we arrived at Knebworth at 1030 and having found a parking slot near to the station unloaded the bikes and set off.
The weather was fine but overcast with light grey clouds, there was a forecast of a shower later, but on the whole the day was promising. As it was Eve’s route I was confident that there would be no hills today; the ‘short’ climb out of Knebworth being just a blip on an otherwise level landscape. We crossed the roaring A1(M) on a bridge and passed through Old Knebworth. Keeping Knebworth House on our right with barely a glance, we were working hard to keep the pedals turning, towards the wonderfully named Nup End. As we approached Slip Lane we realised that Sustrans had been doing a very good job with their cycleway signage in this area; we also realised that a map mounting bracket on the handlebars would have been a very useful addition to our kit-bag as we were making frequent stops to check our directions on Eve’s brilliantly marked up route-map.
In Slip Lane we had our first realisation of the undulating nature of today’s terrain which in fact proved to be a major feature of the ride. Eve’s assurances of the route being flat falling more and more on deaf ears; by the end of the day she was rechristened King of the Mountains. Never again will I listen to Eve,s moans about my hilly routes without reminding her of that ‘pretty flat ride in Hertfordshire.’
By 1130 we were ready for a morning coffee and fortuitously this conveniently corresponded with our arrival at Ayot St Lawrence, a very pretty hamlet and home to the ruins of Ayot St Lawrence Old Church, The Brockett’s Arms – named after Lord Brockett, Shaw’s Corner and the amazing Ayot St Lawrence new church which is easily missed unless you have your eye’s about you. The Brockett’s Arms was not open to serve coffee; lack of staff apparently, although we could see three staff members in the place. Anyway this gave us an opportunity to have a look around the old church. Some preservation work has been started, but I must say they have a long way to go.
We returned to ‘the Brockett’s’ and eventually got served some coffee after that we were soon on the road again. We passed Shaw’s Corner home to the well known Irish author, playwright and cyclist George Bernard Shaw, who lived and died in the village. A little further along the lane we came upon the entrance to the new church. We would have missed this completely but for the fact that we had noticed this unusual edifice earlier whilst exploring the old one. We turned in and were greeted by one of the most unusual looking churches I have ever seen.
Aware of the time and having decided that, if we tried we might make it to Deacon Hill (the halfway point of the ride) for lunch-time we, pressed on.
A little further on we rounded a corner and met an oncoming tide of about 20 cyclists, we had seen many cyclists on the road today but this was clearly a led ride of sort arranged by Bromley Cyclists. Drawing closer I then recognised one of the riders – Lawrence – who frequently rides with us. Before I could respond we were past. In truth it would not have been a good time to stop.
At Kimpton I misread the map and we took a wrong turning up a long hill. It was about a mile before we realised the mistake; we had a choice of back down the wrong hill and then up the right one or a cross-country bridleway short cut. I don’t like short-cuts, Eve doesn’t like hills (and nor do I really). We elected the bridleway. Progress was slow, the track being very uneven, but it was dry and completely clear of vegetation.
Back on course we followed an undulating ascent underneath the flight path to nearby Luton Airport, through Breachwood Green and then turned into a valley called Lilley Bottom. Hunger pangs were rising to the top of our agenda and at the head of the valley we arrived at the village of Lilley and here found the Lilley Arms complete with a horse hitching rail at the front. We entered the bar, it was packed – with Southwark Cyclists led by Andy Cawdell. We had caught up with the ride we spotted earlier.
Lunch was a very slow affair. Southwark Cyclists had obviously cleared out the pantry. A plate of chips and a panini took over an hour. Southwark had long hit the road again by the time we said goodbye and set off at 1445. By now we were well behind time.
Here we decided that we would take an alternative route along the ancient Icknield Way, a bridleway passing to the south of Deacon Hill, thereby missing Hexton and the rather forbidding Butts Hill .
We located the start to the Icknield Way without difficulty and soon found ourselves ascending a rough track amongst the trees under a very warm summer afternoon sunshine. Suddenly through the hedgerows on our left we could see Deacons Hill rising out of the plain like a cone. Locating the path we abandoned the bikes and climbed to the top. The views were incredible.
Back on the bikes we descended to the road and began the homewards leg of the route. We were only about half way round by now, and here we found ourselves on more off-road sections. The surfaces were sound but not suited to skinny tyres. Progress was slow as we negotiated the bumps and ruts. We had to stop for some of the many horses we encountered as well.
At the village of Whitwell we located Emily’s Tea Room just in time to meet Emily mounting her bicycle to ride home. The tea room looked most inviting but we had to settle for a Clementine and a Kit-Kat in the nearby Bull. We were tired by now, warm too, the sun had shone all afternoon. There followed a long detour around the village of Codicote which took us past one of the other entrances to the Knebworth Estate and finally back to Knebworth Station where we found the car and set course for our homes.
A fabulous ride of about 40 miles, at about 9mph. but loads of hills, not the mega-hills that we are used to on home territory, but hills nonetheless.