Cambridge loop - Tour displacement therapy - CycleBlaze

February 8, 2020

Cambridge loop

A classic opener

Partial trace of the route, as I forgot to turn the GPS on
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Wanting to take my upgrades for a spin and with the wind (as usual) in the west, I opted for classic of the genre of season openers - a spin out towards the metropolis of Cambridge. Actually, I had no intention of going into Cambridge itself (as it's a bit of a pain and not particularly nice cycling) but would instead head towards it over a series of quiet backroads, bridleways and meadows. After that I wasn't sure where I would go, but if I wasn't too tired I'd probably head down into my old haunts of South Cambridgeshire, and then back across a corner of Hertfordshire to return to the vicinity of Potton.

For early in the year it was a bright and blowy day, and I happily bounced over the hill to the neighboring village, the amusingly-named Cockayne Hatley (funny village names will also be a feature, here). Cockayne H. is oddly cut-off in the corner of NE Bedfordshire, with no roads into Cambridgeshire which surrounds it on two sides. There is a track suitable for bikes through, and allows me to cut through Hatley hall manor house and into this surprisingly unpopulated side of west Cambrideshire. Unfortunately this route is overfamiliar to me and I failed to take pictures, bit here's a stock photo:

Hatley Park. Image John Hagger
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From then it was quiet back roads through the villages associated with Hatley towards Croydon (not the famous one). From there I can go back off-road, cutting through woodland and fields where I once spent a night camping to shake down the tent, to meet the Roman road, Ermine Street. Still a major road (the A1198), this linked London and St. Albans to Godmanchester, latin name Durovigutum - long before Cambridge was founded and became by far the biggest urban centre. 

I don't cycle on Ermine street, as it is fast and straight and carries a lot of traffic, but instead cut east across country again towards Little Eversden. A really quite spectacularly muddy field, and then climb up "the only hill in Cambridgeshire" and a slightly hairy descent on gravel roads down to the village.

View from the top of the "only hill in Cambridgeshire", an extension of the Greensand ridge. In the distance you can just about see Cambridge itself.
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I exaggerate of course: Cambridgeshire's not totally flat. Though it does include a settlement called Bar Hill, elevation 21m, and include large tracts below sea level, so make of that what you will.
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From Little Eversden it's quiet backroads through a string of villages with confusingly similar names: Harlton, Haslingfield, Hauxton and Harston. Hard by in Haslingfield, there's a lovely cut through meadows and wetlands, which is where I stopped for lunch. It's pretty idyllic on a sunny day.

Lunch spot near Haslingfield
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Hauxton and Harston are very fancy villages, just south of Cambridge, and hence prime commuter locations for the city. An agent once attempted to sell us a house in Harston with only three out of four external walls for quarter of a million pounds. He did not make a sale.

Instead of heading into Cambridge, I decided to follow the main road A10 into South Cambridgeshire. Not a great road to cycle on, it (now) has a good cycleway alongside all the way to Royston. Somewhat fighting the wind and delayed by the trains at the very busy level crossing at Foxton, I rode it all the way to Meldreth where we lived before moving to Bedfordshire. Melbourn and Meldeth are pretty villages somewhat out of the orbit of Cambridge. The surrounding scenery isn't as good as further west, though.

From Meldreth I battled to the west against the wind through the country lanes to Bassingbourn, Steeple Morden to snip across a weird salient of Hertfordshire containing the very old village of Ashwell. Ashwell is famous for the medieval graffiti in its 14th century church. Some of it is amusing gossip ("the archdeacon is an ass" and "Barbara is a regular young vixen"), but the major piece is eerily apposite:

Medieval graffiti from the church in Ashwell, Hertfordshire. Photo from http://www.stmarysashwell.org.uk/church/graffiti/decode.htm
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Kathleen ClassenAs a Canadian, stuff this old blows my mind. Every time. Thanks for this journal.
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3 months ago
Jon AylingTo Kathleen ClassenThanks Kathleen - I'm trying to get more to grips with local history, as there's a lot of it about - many of the villages, including Potton, are included in the Domesday book and so about 1000 years old. Boggles my mind, and a subject I know far too little about!
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3 months ago

Translation:

There was a plague
1000, three times 100, five times 10
A pitiable, fierce, violent plague departed;
A wretched populace survives to witness
And in the end a mighty wind, Maurus,
thunders in this year of the world, 1361

Thirteenth century church in Ashwell. My photo this time.
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By the time I got to Ashwell I was glad to turn to the north and get out the wind. A very quiet back-road, hardly used by motor vehicles at all, would take me to Eyeworth and then Sutton. It was coming on for 4pm, and the sun was getting low in the sky. This made for a really pretty ride back.

Lovely quiet roads outside Ashwell, glowing in the low sun
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Southern England's not bad, at times
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My favourite road in the area. Hardly ever see a car (if the occasional tractor).
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The magic light was particularly weird and intense on this crab apple tree in Eyeworth
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Looking towards the hills of the edge of East Bedfordshire, and the huge mast just outside Potton. It's so prominent it can be seen from one side of the county to the other.
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Potton, Sutton and Wrestlingworth are villages tucked away from the major arteries of the Great North Road (A1) and Cambridge roads.  I spend so long wandering the byways around them I forget how pretty they are.

Keeping the internationalist flame alive in Sutton.
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Moon rising over Potton. I sometimes see barn owls around here.
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Potton is on the Greensand ridge. As well as making the land hilly and sandy (so well drained, and pretty good for cycling off-road) this means it has been quarried for sand for many years. Indeed, the nearest town is, literally, Sandy. One of the three quarries surrounding the town - this one's disused, but the others are still going.
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I was pretty demolished after this fairly short ride - but the good news was the saddle remained more than tolerable. I'll continue to wear it in, and build up fitness as the days get longer.

My cat, Darwin (right) and Genghis Khan were glad to see me back.
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Today's ride: 70 km (43 miles)
Total: 70 km (43 miles)

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