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23 Feb: Wheathampstead to Aston

posted 24 Feb 2014, 02:10 by South Herts   [ updated 8 Jan 2017, 23:15 ]
The day dawned bleak and windy together with a grey featureless sky that was doing its best to warn off any cyclist intent on setting a wheel on the road.  Nevertheless a brave crew of cycling masochists gathered after being blown to Wheathampstead from the south for the start of the tour.  The weather was trying hard to spit and dampen us at times, but the strength of the wind meant it was blowing and changing quick enough to give no sufficient reason to put on waterproof clothing.  On the plus side the temperature was heading up to an incredible 10 degrees and if the sun had been peeping through we’d have needed sun tan lotion and shorts – well I exaggerate just a tad!  Remember it’s still winter and until Springwatch is aired on TV it’s not officially spring yet!  The countryside was bursting with life with woodpeckers to be heard drumming for mates and Skylarks trilling away.  All the seasonal flowers were well in bloom, including vast drifts of snowdrops seen on roadside banks and very advanced daffs, aconites and garlic seen in the woodland understorey.
Anyway, that’s enough description of the joys of the countryside.  We set off going north from Wheathampstead on minor roads with the wind pushing us nicely towards the first stop destination in Letchworth.  The route, which was planned and checked a fortnight ago, was delightfully free of flooding and gravel banks formed from washout of fields, so we made excellent progress in a lazy “S” shape heading towards Codicote, switching back towards Whitwell and taking a nice, easy route following the River Mimram.  Then we headed uphill to go through Preston, over the top and down to the lovely sounding named village of St Ippollites.  From there we made a beeline towards our destination via Willian to a well timed stop at the JD Wetherspoons in Letchworth for refreshments.  Here we met up with two more hardy souls who came from the south via a less circuitous route.

Town centre with fountain
Steve washes his bottom bracket in Letchworth
lane over hills
The old road out of Baldock

After a well-watered break we set off in earnest towards the planned lunch stop located at Aston on the southeast side of Stevenage.  As the tour leader I did caution the tour members that the easy stuff was over and we’d start to head across and back against the wind as we reached our most northerly part of our tour and headed back south.  It was a nice way of doing it as we gently started to run into the wind as we crossed town via the little known NCR 12 to get into Baldock.  Going through and around the back of Baldock we headed towards another little known and less used crossing of the A505 just after Clothill Common, which was the original road to Wallington now converted to a cycle track.  After rejoining the road we headed due south passing the house where the author George Orwell penned the allegorical story “Animal Farm” during World War II.  We passed through Rushden and Walkern and thus to the lunch stop at Aston and we all agreed it was a welcome break after struggling against the strong winds.  The Rose and Crown was a very obliging and comfortable pub as we all had good and well-presented food at excellent prices without crowds or noisy kids to distract us.  One more had travelled there to swell our ranks so we now had eleven riders gathering at this point.

cycle barrier
Cycle route over A505
Thatched cottage
George Orwell's cottage in Wallington

After a luxurious lunch time stop and a good natter the weather decided to stay dry for the remainder of the return trip and we set off on dry roads to complete a last stage against the unrelenting wind on a planned route via Watton and Stapleford and towards Welwyn, thus allowing people to exit for their home destinations as was convenient.  

In summary, it was a nice day out with weather kind enough that we never needed waterproofs and a wind that just made it better exercise than usual.  We put another 50 miles in the bag at a time of the year when we could be struggling against snow and much more hostile conditions.  Congratulations to those who came out and enjoyed the new routes up and around Letchworth and Baldock. A special thanks go to Carol for pointing out the local history and Jon for suggesting there was a route around the north east of Baldock which was correct and a useful alternative.   

Paul Sheridan