It wasn’t the time between worlds, it was 8am, the sun was up and shinning, and I was waiting at the crossroads, Dillington crossroads to be exact. Not for Mephistopheles was I awaiting either, ready to trade my soul for race superiority, just Tim. We were going to recce the route for the Paris-Roubaix homage ride he’s organising for the 13th April (and yes it is inspired by the Rapha Hell of the North ride).
Regular readers (Ok my Mum) may remember I did a similar recce back in December, however, the route is more or less finalised now, and this ride was to make the final checks and adjustments.
On Saturday I had advised Tim to remove his mudguards from his winter bike – there would be mud and they would just be a nuisance. Still, the point of the ride is to be more or less rideable on a road bike, so anything which proved too muddy would be out. So, as ever what could be a better arbiter than my single speed Langster, prepped with 25mm continental four season tyres. Tim decided to leave his winter bike at home and opted for his mtb instead. By the time he got to Dillington, 7 miles riding on the road with a heavy frame, knobbly tyres and suspension, I think he was already regretting it. Well at least he only had another 43 miles to go.
The route first skirts around the back of Grafham Water then heads south for a meandering journey through the Bedfordshire Wolds. I only recently discovered Bedfordshire has wolds. We had gone for a day out at Thurleigh Farm, a local children’s adventure play centre, and while my girls and their cousins were busy exhausting themselves in a soft play area I picked up and flicked through a local walking leaflet. It seems this part of Bedfordshire is being branded the Bedfordshire Wolds. I must admit I had always assumed wold landscapes were meant to be hilly, but evidently a bit lumpy also counts, and I suppose it does set a geographic context for the route, which is always nice.
The first off road sector took us around the back of Grafham Water and onto the Easton road. It started off as a worn tarmac and gravel track before turning fully to grass. Despite the year’s wet start and after just two weeks mild and dry weather the grass was surprisingly dry and mud free.
The next off-road sector connected Spaldwick to Molly Rose Lodge on the B660. It is mostly grass and is usually Ok, but heavy machinery had badly churned up significant parts, so for this year the sector is ruled out. Unfortunately it also cuts out a significant chunk of the route, so there will need to be a few adjustments back at home. Shortly after I got the one and only puncture of the day.
The next sector is the longest; Sandye lane, the beautiful byway linking Tilbrook to Swineshead. It is a mix of good conditioned grass and hard surface. It also has the most technical piece of the ride, a fairly steep and rutted downhill going away from the delightfully Pooh-bearish Honeyhill Wood. You need to pick a careful line on the descent otherwise, like Tim, you’ll be off for a scratchy landing in the brambled verges.
From Swineshead there is a long road sector going to Upper Dean and Shelton. At Shelton the route does three sides of a gravelly square, with a couple of grassy muddy bits thrown in, to Yelden, via Chelston wind farm.
The original route plan took us to Newton Bromswold and the byway across Yelden Wold. But I couldn’t get traction on the mud and grass slope and walked for most of its mile length. Tim spent more time riding, but still struggled across the uneven grass. It looked good on paper, but not so on the bike. Still at least by walking I didn’t fall into the mud…
We rode down to Melchbourne then took a pretty off-road back route into Risely. There is a stream crossing on this sector, easily jumped and once over, after a brief section of grass you are onto a pleasant ride, on an old concrete surface, through Coppice Wood.
From Riseley we took to some gravel tracks around Thurleigh airfield and into Bolnhurst and then onto the Bushmead crossroads. At the crossroads, rather than continuing straight over for the traditional club run dash back into St Neots we turned left, riding passed Bushmead Priory to a parallel bridleway taking us through Staughton Moor and on to Duloe. The Moor is a strange area. Is it unreasonable to think the mutant progeny of secret wartime experiments live on here? Perhaps, but only if you’ve never ridden by the derelict barns, rusting barbed wire and high steel fences along well surface single track roads which go…well, that is a question. Riding back into St Neots, the graffiti on the A1 underpass, is something close to a civilisational relief!
It was a good ride, good route and good company. You can do it on a road bike, indeed for most of the off-road sectors I seemed more comfortable on my light single speed bike than Tim did on his heavy mtb. But if you do go for a road bike, be sure to leave the deep section carbon rims and lightweight race tyres at home.