31.5 miles / 50.7km
My children were bundled off to school and nursery amidst snow and excitement, while I was beginning to reconsider doing the day’s cycling plan. The snow turned back to sleet and cold rain, over on the horizon the skies lightened, and then the clouds cleared. I headed north up the A1 to Castor, near Peterborough, to do the ride.
This is an area of Cambridgeshire I have passed through a few times on rides to and from a cycling friend in Lincolnshire, but I have never fully explored it by bike. My expectations for big hills were not, well, high and a glance at an OS map only confirmed this. Still, hills in Cambridgeshire is a relative concept. Compared to the Fens, this is a rolling area, so perhaps worthy of further exploration in my efforts to track down the best climbs the county has to offer.
Northwest Cambridgeshire is an area I feel I should know better for other reasons too. My grandmother grew up at nearby Maxey Mill, my grandfather was based at RAF Wittering during WWII, and not so long ago I had family who still farmed in the area. I also believe my parents used to frequent many of the local pubs when they were a courting, but I’ll not dwell on that. When I was a child we would sometimes spend an afternoon playing and walking in Southey Woods. So you can see, I have ties to the area.
I started from Castor, although you could just as well start from Stamford. Leaving Castor, there was a minor bump across the A47, but then the road flattened off, rising imperceptibly towards the Stamford Road. After 5 miles the route had gained an unpromising 50m. On the way to Southorpe there were a few undulations, but nothing to trouble the legs.
The first proper climb (by now I was regrading drags to climbs) came on the approach to Barnack. The road climbed gently through Barnack and onto Pilsgate, with a brief dip between them. Overall the climb had gained 28m over 2500m, with a max gradient of 4%.
From Pilsgate the route heads into Stamford (handy for a coffee) then back out on the same road. This does of course mean you get to climb up to Pilsgate from both directions. The Stamford side climb is slightly harder gaining 31m over 1100m, again with a max gradient of 4%.
After Pilsgate, it is a case of more flattish roads until the approach and climb through Ufford. The climb starts of gently, but you can clearly see the ramp up to the village church where it steepens to almost 7% before bending to the left where the gradient gradually levels off. The climb gains 28m over 1100m.
There are a few more miles of flat before the penultimate climb through Oxey Wood. Riding through the beech trees I can imagine this is a rather nice little climb in the summer. In the winter the bare grey trunks and gold brown mats of fallen leaves still make for an attractive route. The climb has 3 parts. As you approach the trees, the road climbs at a steady 4-5% then relaxes to around 2% before a final kick at around 6%. Overall the climb gains 26m over 700m.
There is a small drag as you approach Milton Park, after Marholm, but apart from that the climbing is over. If you want it to be. As you ride back into Castor, and the finish, you suddenly plummet back into the Nene Valley, down Loves Hill. At the bottom of the hill, turn around and ride back up it, to make it the final climb. On this route, it is the meanest gradient you are likely to encounter. You gain 21m over 260m and the gradient averages 8% for much of the distance.
This is not a hilly route, even by Cambridgeshire standards, and when you look at the route stats, you do have to wonder exactly where all the elevation came from. But that did not stop me from enjoying it. Despite being on Peterborough’s doorstep, the roads are good and quiet. The countryside is neat and gentle, broken by patches of woodland. The villages, with their weathered limestone buildings, are universally pretty. This time of year, it is easy to imagine the jolly locals walking or 4x4ing to Church for the Christmas services. No doubt in summer you’ll have your weekend pick of village fetes. Even in December it is a lovely place to be with your bike.
Finally, I rode this route comfortably on my singlespeed, which just goes to show how unhilly it is. The only time I wanted for gears was when I picked up a tailwind. It is also the only one of my Cambridgeshire Hill routes where I have used Strava, and yes, even here there are segments. If you’re interested these are they and my times / position (correct as of 7/12/12, but obviously these may have changed since):
Ailsworth Hill: 1.21 mins; 8th/56
Pilsgate Road: 2.00 mins; 3rd/137
White Hart Climb: 2.21 mins; 9th/55
Rice Wood hill to Stamford Rd: 3.06 mins; 3rd/70
Loves Hill: 1.06 mins; 6th/94