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13 Feb: St Albans to Studham

posted 19 Feb 2011, 01:53 by South Herts   [ updated 1 Jan 2017, 02:28 ]
Neil writes: Richard explained that he had two routes in mind but he kept us guessing on his choice of route.  It was on an overcast, cloudy and damp Sunday morning when we left St Albans. The forecast was for worse weather to come and our numbers were well down on previous weeks.   As we set off for Ayot St Peter via Sandridge it soon became apparent that today's ride would be rather challenging, with the gusty wind and rain doing their best to become our new best friends.
One of the great things about having Richard as a leader is his knowledge of the local roads.  There was never really a time in the whole ride where I was completely clueless as to where we were, but at times he would go up a road that we would normally ride in the other direction, giving us a whole new view to feast our eyes on. As the morning wore on the weather became more dramatic at times.  It's fairly safe to say that we did not have one completely dry minute. Tea break was at Jake’s Cafe at Woodside. It was here that Peter bade us farewell, as he wanted to grab a bargain in the shops. This in the light of things to come was a bad move IMHO.
Pete & Neil in Jake's Cafe.

After break, Richard and I made for the outskirts of Dunstable. By this time the wind had really got up and had decided to use us as play things. After Dunstable we made our way up the Whipsnade road. This was a climb and a half and about a quarter of the way up, Richard pointed out a cycle path that we could use, so we did. The path was gravely and wet and with the wind head on, it made for quite a challenging climb. I do remember thinking I'm glad I'm going up this path as the gravel would have made for a slippery descent. Near the top was a little gate and a gentleman ambling towards it in the same direction as us.  On approaching I dutifully rang my bell and he dutifully leapt out of his skin.
What met my gaze at the top was nothing short of astounding.  We were now at the highest point in Bedfordshire at 797 ft and overlooking The London Gliding Club.  The whole of the Dunstable Downs and the vale of Aylesbury was spread out before us; the rolling hills, deep greens of the fields and deep browns of the wintry trees gave this sight some real character.  This site was used in Neolithic and Bronze ages for burials, then for mass executions of Saxon raiders and in recent times, for scenes in The Prisoner.
The Five Knolls on Dunstable Downs

We then, by the power of wind alone, made our way to the Five Knolls (there are actually seven of these burial mounds); we were being blown along by the wind at 10 mph, not bad for no pedalling.  We were fully exposed to the wind as we made our way along the ridge of the downs up to the National Trust Centre.  This was hard work as I had a battle of wits with the wind, one gust and I could've been down to the bottom of the valley.  As we neared the centre, it seemed that the wind got stronger and at one point I swear that I was riding at an angle to it. Someone said ‘wonderful, now we will have the wind behind us’ then he did a right turn straight into it.  From there it was a quick dash down into Studham for lunch.  It was here we were joined by Jon and Judy; it was a nice place and did a very welcome sandwich. 
Leaving The Bell, Studham
Judy shows Neil the right way to get ready.

From lunch the ride was much the same as the morning, with similar weather problems all round.
I have to say I wouldn't swap a challenging day like this for all the tea in China, FANTASTIC.