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31 Aug: Hatfield to Maulden

posted 4 Sep 2014, 07:56 by South Herts   [ updated 12 Jan 2017, 21:07 ]
Several months ago after years of riding with South Herts CTC, mostly on Wednesday rides which I’ve led on numerous occasions, I finally stepped up to the plate and volunteered to lead a Sunday ride on the last day of August to the north of Hertfordshire and “Central Bedfordshire”, as the numerous signs inform us. The first leg was to Hitchin. I decided to depart from Hatfield via the Garden Village and Lemsford. Quite soon we were crossing the A1M at Ayot Green, passing the site of the old Ayot station on the branch to Leighton Buzzard. This is the station that George Bernard Shaw used when travelling up to London to see his publisher. It was burned down in 1948 and formally closed the following year, well before the building of the A1M in 1971 severed the stump of the branch to Blackbridge dump. Soon we were passing through Whitwell and further “railway” interest at “Cressman’s Corner”, before turning right to pass through Preston and Gosmore and arriving at Hitchin.

group leaves cafe
Leaving Hitchin Kitchen
sign board
Colourful sign near Hitchin
recumbent on grassy track
Judy on Oughton Head Lane
thatched cottages
Thatched cottages in Ampthill
Lots of establishments would do well to heed the price structure of some of our elevenses cafes - Hitchin Kitchen et al seem to be able to offer substantial amounts of food at low cost and remain a thriving and enduring business. The Hertfordshire traffic police “refuelling” in the corner certainly seemed to agree with me, at least on this matter. We’d arrived quite early at Hitchin, although Jon and Judy were already there, so I decided to add a bit of distance to the following leg to the pub. In retrospect this may have been a mistake. I’d researched the exit from Hitchin extensively so we had a smooth progression to Arlesey and Clifton, a village that sadly no longer has the “Byercycles” shop, Richard Byers having retired. We then proceeded up the B658 until a left turn past the Shuttleworth Collection and Old Warden. Richard Ormonde Shuttleworth founded the Shuttleworth Collection in 1928, the avowed, and visionary intention being to preserve historic machinery as far as possible in working condition. This has been achieved, with a Bleriot XI being the world’s oldest airworthy aeroplane, and a Blackburn Type D being the oldest airworthy British aeroplane, as well as many other aircraft, cars and bicycles.  Richard Shuttleworth was killed in 1940 in an air training crash, and his mother formed a remembrance trust to teach “the science and practice of aviation, afforestation and agriculture”. The Shuttleworth mansion was frequently in view as well as the fields that constitute the classroom of the agricultural college.
Passing through Old Warden village I took an incorrect left turn, but not too much trouble ensued; we were soon passing Ireland as intended and crossing the A600. Joining up again at Haynes Church End, we descended Great Lane to Clophill, and then crossed the A6 (near Deadman’s Hill, the site of the infamous 1960 A6 murder) before coming into Maulden and The Dog and Badger, where we re-joined Jon and Judy in the pub garden. It was now 13:10 and we’d ridden about 42 miles in 3.5 hours of cycling since 09:05 - exactly 12mph as advertised on the club’s website. However, after lunch there was a considerable thinning in the ranks of the peloton, with only 4 of us continuing to Dunstable while several others opted for a direct route back via Whitwell.

View map full screen (The blue route was used by most; mauve is Graham's route after lunch and brown is Jon & Judy's short cut to lunch).

On leaving the pub, fortified by a beef sandwich and 2 pints of “waggle-dance”, I continued to Ampthill, and then to Steppingley, turning left just before the M1 and then through Harlington, upper and lower Sundon, up a steep hill over the end of the Chilterns and into Dunstable via Houghton Regis. Café Latte was again excellent value and served us even though we were just past their formal last orders time. Having crossed the Luton-Dunstable guided busway (the other end of the former Hatfield-Leighton Buzzard branch encountered earlier) on the cycle path to the café, we decided to use the cycle path alongside this piece of novel infrastructure to get to Luton, despite the gates to prevent motorcyclists using it being almost too narrow to squeeze a bicycle through. I can’t say I’m a big fan of this form of public transport. Road vehicles running on bits of concrete seems a bit of reverse evolution from steel rails and wheels to me. The similar busway in Cambridgeshire undisputedly cost more to construct than just reinstating the railway it replaced (although it has a fantastically smooth, fast cycle route), and once a bus leaves the busway, which is not available for any other motor vehicle to use, it just gets snarled up in all the town centre traffic as before. As such they combine the worst aspects of both rail and bus travel - surely a tram system would be better?
From Luton we stayed on the old railway path into Harpenden, losing a further rider at Luton station. By the time I got home at 18:00 after 9 hours out of the house, 7 cycling I’d ridden 82 miles, an average speed of less than 12mph in perfect weather and through beautiful countryside.

Graham 31/08/2014