55miles / 89km
South Cambridgeshire, in keeping with the rest of the county, is mostly flat. However, there are two notable lumpy areas, well, that is for someone who grew up in the Fens, and it is these that this route, and its longer version, explore. South east of St Neots lies the last spur of the Greensands Ridge before it sinks beneath the Fens, while on the southern borders with Essex and Suffolk rises a chalk ridge which confounds you with Cambridgeshire’s highest points. In between is the broad basin of River Rhee (or Cam) valley. It is not Fenland Flat, but the terrain does not raise much more than a gentle ripple.
The shorter route is really about 1 hill, Great Chishill. Lying amidst the chalk ridge at Cambridgeshire’s southernmost point, at 146m it is also the county’s highest point. As there is so much flat filler on this route, the circuit climbs the hill not once, or even twice, but three times. Once you’ve made the effort to ride down there, you may as well use the miles wisely!
The route starts from the National Trust property, Wimpole Hall. If you’re a member, parking is free, otherwise it is £2, plus their cafe guarantees excellent post ride recovery nutrition.
Turn left out of the Wimpole estate. You have a brief stretch of flat to a bridge over a small stream and then the first climb begins. Around the bend the climb starts at about 5% then levels off to the next bend where it again steepens. There follows another level section before hitting a 10% slope to the summit. It is a good varied climb gaining 43m over 780m.
The road levels off as you continue to the A1198. Turn left onto the main road and head downhill into Arrington where you take the first right to Croydon. For the next mile the road undulates along the edge of the Greensand Ridge. At the next junction, prepare your gears and turn right up Croydon Hill. The climb is steep from start to finish and with a mid section around 10% it gains 25m over 280m. At the top you now have two choices: turn around and do the shorter route, or carry on to do the longer route. Either way there is no excuse for skipping Croydon Hill. The longer route adds another 20 miles and further explores the Greensands Ridge. There are no long and high climbs to be found here but there are a couple of places where the road does buck up and down sharply. It is quite a nice route too.
At the bottom of Croydon Hill turn right and follow signs to Wendy cum Shingay then Bassingbourn. You are now in the River Rhee basin, so expect long, flat and steady miles. Like the gradients, the countryside is fairly unexceptional, especially on a dull autumn morning, but with the prevailing winds from the west, you should normally pick up a tail wind as far as Shepreth. Make the most of it and ride on quickly. If you look on an OS map, west of Meldreth you will notice Mettle Hill. You will also notice there are no contour lines, so do not expect it to test your hill climbing mettle on this genuinely false summit!
Turn right in Shepreth, ride through Fowlmere then on to cross the A505. The morning mists had started to lift now and all along the stretch to the A505 I could see the chalk ridge and Great Chishill ahead. I had never approached Great Chishill from this direction, the few times I have climbed it have always been from the Hertfordshire side, and if I am honest, it looked easy.
Be careful crossing the A505, it can be busy. Once across, take the first left and start the first ascent up to Great Chishill. The road gently undulates for the first kilometre and you barely gain 10m in total. Eventually the gradient becomes more than a false flat, but not by much. However, it is a slightly deceptive climb: although the road is dead straight, for most of the way the summit is obscured by two false summits. After 3.7km you have climbed a very gentle 89m with gradients rarely troubling 5%.
In Great Chishill go straight over the crossroads for the fast descent into Barley, turn right in the village and head back towards Great Chishill. Barley is in Hertfordshire, so the Cambridgeshire climb does not officially start until you reach Comberton Bottom brook, marking the county boundary. The climb begins fairly steep at about 7% to Chishill Windmill where the road levels then briefly dips.
From the dip, the next 600m back to the crossroads never drop below 5%. After an initial steep section, the gradient eases before kicking at just under 10% up to the crossroads. Passing the crossroads, the climb continues to gain a little more height to give a total gain of 65m over 1.5km.
Over the summit, rest and enjoy the long descent to Chrishall. Continue to the A505, across some fine cycling country. Turn left onto the A505, remembering it can be a busy stretch, where you have a 200m time trial to the next left and the climb to Heydon.
Heydon is the neighbouring village to Great Chishill atop the ridge, and while the climb runs parallel to the first ascent, it has a very different character. Whereas the first climb was a straight road across exposed fields, the Heydon climb is through a bending avenue of trees, vibrant with fall colours.
The climb starts as you turn off the A505 and at 1 or 2% is no more than a false flat. After the first 2.5km you’ve been moving steadily upwards but have only gained about 45m. As you enter the avenue of trees the gradient ratchets up a degree, but is still easy. However, the land steepens over the next 1.4 km where you gain a further 59m; at the first Heydon village sign the gradient briefly jumps to almost 10%, but it eases down to about 4 or 5% as you reach the first houses. From the A505, you have ascended 104m over 3.9km.
Of the 3 climbs the Heydon one is probably my favourite. The first climb is long, gentle and has little to challenge or interest. It is not a climb I would bother with again. From Fowlmere I would recommend riding direct to Barley and climbing to Great Chishill from there. The Barley climb is shorter and may gain less height, but it is both more challenging and more interesting. The final climb to Heydon starts off easy, but while it does steepen, it is never an especially strenuous ride; however it was the pretty avenue of trees which made it stand out for me.
Leaving Heydon the route briefly dips into Essex en route to Duxford. The roads are quiet, decently surfaced and the countryside lovely: good cycling country. At Elmdon, I met Thriplow Lycra Lads cycling club. I had not heard of the club before and learned from the members it is only a few years old, although judging from the guys I chatted with, the “lads” in their name is perhaps a misrepresentation! Thriplow MAMILs may be more appropriate… Still it is great to see that a South Cambs village can support a small but thriving cycle club.
Essex kicks you back into Cambridgeshire with a short little climb, then it is downhill to the M11 and Ickleton. From Ickleton the route is flat through Duxford, Whittlesford, Newton, Harston and Haslingfield. It is a pleasant enough ride, marred only by the busy crossings at the A505 and A10.
At Haslingfield turn right opposite the church and climb Chapel Hill. Like Croydon Hill earlier, get your gearing sorted as you turn from miles of flat to a climb which at its steepest is over 10%. Over 500m you climb 33m. The summit levels off and you are rewarded with some glorious views across South Cambridgeshire before the long descent into Barrington village and its enormous village greens. And that is it, the climbing is done, so relax and enjoy the last few miles to Wimpole via Orwell.