Katherine of Aragon memorial loop - Tour displacement therapy - CycleBlaze

Katherine of Aragon memorial loop

Circumnavigating Kimbolton

Heart 0 Comment 0

It was forecast to a be a really beautiful day, so I thought I'd try out a longer ride. Putting the bike on a train would really not be cool at this point - and only some of them are running anyway - but I thought that if I stuck to green lanes through the more obscure countryside I could justify it as being as isolated as otherwise. The need for the circular route would be all to the good - turns out you can really rack up the miles when you have to get back as well as go out.

The unseasonably summery weather is being brought in from the continent by a high pressure system to the east, meaning the wind is unusually driving to the north-west. This is perfect inducement to go and explore the countryside between the big reservoir at Grafham and Bedford - the least populated part of Bedfordshire, and a maze of green lanes, byways, bridleways and tracks on which I could be fairly confident in not meeting a soul.

Some careful eyeballing of the map and I had a route that would take me all the way to the edge of Northamtonshire, circumnavigating the little town of Kimbolton. In my downtime I've been reading far too much of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall series of historical novels, covering the womanising whims of Henry VIII and his long-suffering councillor, Thomas Cromwell.  While being pretty well written and helping to alleviate some of the gaping holes in my knowledge of the time, they also provide the side-amusement of spotting obscure provincial towns in the local area mentioned as more prominent at the time. I let out a genuine laugh in the first book when it turns out the Katherine of Aragon was exiled to Kimbolton (of all places) following the fickle King's divorce, as I know it as a very inconsequential place. There are numerous episodes when Cromwell has to make the journey to visit her, a couple of days journey from London on horseback through what is described as pretty wild country. We'll be covering the same area by bike, hopefully a bit faster.

So hence the KoA memorial route. Actually, I didn't plan to go into Kimbolton (as the B road running through it is a PITA), but will orbit it at a distance of a few miles. I programmed the route into the GPS - I've been using this sparingly, generally glancing at it every half-hour or so. I don't want to follow the thing slavishly (turn left!) because that would detract from the sense of freedom, but it has enhanced my ability to find and stick to good off-road routes. To paraphrase Thoreau: don't let the railroad ride upon us.

No need for any navigational aids for the first part, though - the familiar off-road route through the Everton estate to St. Neots, the largest town of West Cambridgeshire straddling the Great Ouse. Out of Everton I zoomed down the steep hill directly down the Greensand - 14% according to the sign and topped 50kph, then was swiftly on the old lane heading north. This time I remembered to take so photographs, and boy was I rewarded.

The dirt road north through the flat fertile plain of the farmland on the Everton estate. The pretty yellow is rapeseed (rather than flowers) unfortunately. Rather striking, though the devil if you suffer from heyfever.
Heart 1 Comment 0
This extremely unassuming swathe of tarmac is actually an old secret airfield, RAF Tempsford, used as the departure point for drops of "special operations" - i.e. spies and resistance fighters - behind enemy lines during the second world war. Many of the operatives were women, and there is a memorial in a nearby barn to the "many who were later killed after being captured and tortured".
Heart 0 Comment 0
Then, in the distance, a herd of deer. These are a bit more impressive than the usual dinky Roe and Muntjac deer we commonly see about the place.
Heart 2 Comment 0
These majestic creatures seem to range all over the surrounding farmland and woods, without regard to the borders of farms or counties. Somewhere in the area is a herd containing several albino animals - really ghostly to see them galloping across the fields, particularly at dusk. I thought I was imagining these as the mythical "white harts" which appear in a lot of legends (and pub names).
Heart 0 Comment 0
Look at him go!
Heart 1 Comment 0
The whole herd crossed the lane half a kilometer or so ahead of me.
Heart 2 Comment 0

At the edge of the farmland, the Greensand ridge rears up, making for a very steep 30m/100ft climb up what can be a dodgy mud surface. Slightly disconcertingly, a group of rather wholesome looking teenagers at the top having an illicit picnic (naughty!) watched me the whole way as I crawled up at less than walking pace, a picture of sweat and concentration as I avoided the bumps and potholes. No pressure! When I got to the top they actually applauded and rather disarmingly told me "well done". What nice young people (this makes me sound about twice my age). The virus is turning the country into an Enid Blyton book, I swear it.

From there I regained the road, through a path through the woods that had been thoroughly bulldozed and churned up to clear the (admittedly out-of-control) undergrowth. I was annoyed about this at the time, but now it's started to regrow and look pretty again. Then it was a spin down into St. Neots, where I avoided the centre by taking the cycleway over the Ouse and into Eaton Socon on the west bank.

Crossing the water meadows in St. Neots. Just visible is the raised cycleway that crosses the Ouse, really a confusion of small rivulets running through the marsh at this point.
Heart 1 Comment 0
After climbing out the Ouse valley, I cross the major highway of the A1. I'm not sure why truckers try to drive car transporters through Kimbolton, but I can see why it would be a bit problem (you definitely wouldn't get them round the bends).
Heart 0 Comment 0
The A1 or Great North Road, looking very empty. This was always the main road linking London to Scotland - it runs all the way to Edinburgh - and was well established by the 17th century, with an organised system of coaching inns where horses could be swapped or refreshed. This replaced the "Old North Road", which largely followed Ermine Street and dated to Roman times (and which I cross many times on these rides). Towns like Biggleswade were primarily waypoints on the road, which was notorious for banditry and highwaymen. The most famous of these was Dick Turpin, but Biggleswade has one of its own, "Shock Oliver". Now the road is more notorious for bad service station sandwiches.
Heart 1 Comment 0

I followed the cycleway alongside the B645. Normally this is a bugger of a road, very fast and choked with traffic, so I stick to the cycleway - but today it was nearly empty. Soon I could peal off into the lovely village of Hail Weston, and then down through the little ford on the backroad that leads towards the reservoir. I crossed the ford in the saddle (the first time I've dared this year - on previous occasions it's been flush with storm water) and soon found the turn that would take me on tracks through the fields and woods to the reservoir.

Very old church in Hail Weston, with the main building dating to the 13th century. We get a bit blasé about such old buildings - while it is heavily protected, it's a "grade two star" which isn't even the highest level (grade one).
Heart 2 Comment 0
Hail Weston is a charming village. You'll need a cool half million quid if you want to live in a house like this! (actually this had more to do with the proximity to St. Neots and its main-line rail station - out in the sticks, you can half that).
Heart 2 Comment 0
The ford near Hail Weston. Yes, I did cycle through it! (carefully, as once I slipped on the smooth algae bottom and fell off).
Heart 2 Comment 0
Out over the fields. Really serene.
Heart 0 Comment 0
A compost heap near a farm. Sometimes these develop enough heat through decomposition that they start to smolder, as has happened here.
Heart 0 Comment 0

Running through the fields and woods north of the road it was dead still and quiet. When the huge, elegant, alien forms of the new wind turbines appeared I had a genuine moment when I was overwhelmed by their beauty and strangeness in the almost incandescent glow of the landscape. What with the deserted landscape, it really did feel quite otherworldly.

Really eerie passing the turbines. The only sounds was the slight soughing of wind through their blades.
Heart 1 Comment 0
The shadows of the blades raced me along the green lane
Heart 1 Comment 0

Coming out at the road leading to the reservoir at Grafham water, I immediately saw that the the usual path leading to the waterside had been taped off, and it looked like the reservoir (which is usually a very popular place for family walks) had been closed. The car parks were barred and empty, and signs were up indicating people shouldn't gather there.

I made my way along the road to Perry, the small town on the south side of the reservoir, catching glimpses of the water. Perry is a very pretty place, and also incongruously the location of HMP Littlehay, the largest prison for low-risk sex offenders in the country. Disgraced publicist Max Clifford was imprisoned (and indeed died) there. Fun fact! Sometimes I try to see it from afar as I ride through, but it's pretty well hidden.

The usual path down to the water was taped off.
Heart 0 Comment 0
The usual entrance to Grafham water
Heart 1 Comment 0
Perry is a pretty place (with a secret)
Heart 1 Comment 0
Grafham water was blue as the Mediterranean today. The carpark was empty, and access to it was barred to stop people congregating
Heart 1 Comment 0

I made my way through empty bridleways around the west side of the reservoir, passing only a couple of naughty people going for picnics down by the water, who gave me a furtive giggle as I passed. Technically breaking the rules, but since the place was empty anyway it wasn't like they were doing any harm.

I regained the road after a secluded half hour on the empty trails, and then dived down another track towards Stow Longa. Spotting a shady copse, I figured this was a good time to have some lunch.

Big pylon and blue skies
Heart 0 Comment 0
Lunching spot, in a secluded copse going to Stow Longa
Heart 1 Comment 0
The public rights of way often take you through old farm buildings, interesting tumble-down barns and the like
Heart 0 Comment 0

Stow Longa is a postcard-quality village. I'd passed through it on my Peterborough ride, as the road to the north makes for easy crossing of the A14, but didn't really do it justice.  It has a secluded and ancient church, the bulk of which dates from the 13th century, but contains engraved slabs that indicate a church on the site pre-dating the Normal conquest of 950 years ago. The church was, in medieval times, significant: Cardinal Wolsey held the post of canon (prebend) here (which brings us back to Wolf Hall).  Indeed, the name Stow apparently means "holy place". The church includes a remarkable "mermaid stone", which depicts a mermaid between a crocodile (?) and the lamb (of God) and the meaning of whose symbolism has been lost.

Elaborate village sign in Stow Longa. The aircraft is a bit of a puzzle - Stow doesn't have an airfield, and is no closer to one that many Cambridgeshire villages.
Heart 1 Comment 0
Village green in Stow, with sign to St. Botolph's
Heart 1 Comment 0
Village green cross. Sometimes this is mistakenly thought to be a memorial to Katherine of Aragon, whose body passed through here after she died at Kimbolton castle. However, the cross is apparently much older than that, being medieval.
Heart 1 Comment 0
13th century church of St. Botolph's. It is now very hidden away, alongside an intriguing byway.
Heart 1 Comment 0
The Beckoning Mermaid Stone. Interpretations include the mermaid (centre) as the sin of lust, turning away from the lamb of God (left) towards the creature (crocodile? right) considered to be a creature of damnation. Another is that it is an anti-pagan image: the mermaid represents a river Goddess, leaving Christ behind. Either way, it is very old indeed. Photograph Anichka, Wikipedia.
Heart 2 Comment 0

From Stow I dived back into the byways heading west. Great cycling, just idyllic, and the surfaces were perfect. I crossed the minor and empty B road B660 and continued to the west on the quiet backroads towards Covington.

Note they don't actually claim their cattle are award winning - they just like to cover them with rosettes
Heart 0 Comment 0
Finally crossing the official Three Shires Way. This is more a walking route than for cycling, and weaves around Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire. I also like the way the sign is slowly being eaten by lichen.
Heart 0 Comment 0
Nice wooden barn
Heart 1 Comment 0

Cutting off the backroad to Covington, I finally found a bridleway without a good surface - in fact, it essentially ran up a muddy hill in an empty field. Not a terrible privation, and I managed to pull myself up on one of the tractor tracks that had dried to a rideable surface. Then followed a really astonishingly good network of green lanes - really excellent going, that disappeared into a private little fold in the hills with secluded little woodlands. This would be a great place to wild camp.

Looking back the way I'd come, pulling up the hill on the tractor-tracks. Not the easiest going!
Heart 1 Comment 0
But then followed these superb green lanes.
Heart 1 Comment 0
It got better and better
Heart 2 Comment 0

I popped out in Tilbrook, which has a really gorgeous ensemble of old buildings. These villages, on the Cambridgeshire/Bedfordshire border, feel quite out the way, but very well-kept and pretty.

Spire behind the big trees in Tilbrook
Heart 1 Comment 0
Lovely old timber-beam houses in Tilbrook highstreet. Many fake examples of this style exist in modern estates, particularly of the 50s and 60s. This is the real deal (18th century or older, I think).
Heart 2 Comment 0
Just to tie it all together, this is "Cromwell house". It's so well-maintained I thought at first it was a modern building ... it's actually 400 years old.
Heart 2 Comment 0

I almost immediately picked up more lanes heading South, promising to run through woodland all the way to Swineshead. My photographs don't really do this stretch justice: I must have been distracted, as it was absolutely excellent, just miles and miles of tranquil beauty.

To cap it, Swineshead is (despite the name) also a ridiculously quaint and tidy village. It really should be on some postcard for sale alongside the "keep calm and carry on" in some kitsch tourist shop (in a good way).

One leaning oak
Heart 1 Comment 0
Just miles and miles of this. The surface was also good, better than it appears here.
Heart 0 Comment 0
Very impressive spire on the church in Swineshead
Heart 1 Comment 0
Spire from another angle, and a tiny war memorial (the village is not a big place)
Heart 0 Comment 0
Big a prosperous farmhouse, and wooden-frame barn
Heart 1 Comment 0
An almost too-perfect high street. They even still have a red phone box, which are otherwise dying out (for obvious reasons).
Heart 2 Comment 0

From Swineshead I rejoined the minor road, and continued to head south towards Riseley. This would take me onto familiar ground from my Kettering ride - I would round the airfield in the opposite direction, but instead of heading back to St. Neots I'd make it more an open loop by continuing south to skirt Bedford, and then return on the Bedford-Sandy rail trail. 

I was fighting the wind along the road, and though it wasn't strong, it started to take it out of me. I was happy to turn to the east out of Riseley and climb up towards the disused airfield. There then followed an elaborate three-sided journey to round the edge of the airfield, at times fighting the wind and at others sped along by it. For the first time since Perry, I started to see families out for their exercise.

This is a brilliant mock-up of the standard village signs (in the photo it looks too white, but to the eye it blended very well). I can confirm the accuracy of its promise.
Heart 1 Comment 0
Climbing up to bypass the disused airfield above Riseley
Heart 0 Comment 0
Pretty thatched houses in the curious, cut-off backroads around the old airfield
Heart 2 Comment 0

Descending from the plateau which holds the airfield, I continued south on backroads now, towards Ravensdon and Salph End (which can only be a garbling of "south end").  From there I left the pristine countyside, and picked up what was now a suburban cycleway along the perimeter of Bedford.

Tall water tower and quiet roads, heading south towards Bedford
Heart 0 Comment 0
Just to prove it's not all quaint villages: we have banal housing estates as well! Suburban cycleway on the outskirts of Bedford.
Heart 0 Comment 0

I soon worked my way around the edge of Bedford, crossed the very quiet main road into town, and cut down to the cycleway through the flooded gravel pits around the Grange estates. Crossing under the Cambridge-Bedford highway A421 and over the Ouse, I rejoined the familiar route near Danish Camp. 

This time I took some photos!

Rural Crime! #2
Heart 0 Comment 2
Scott AndersonThanks for the lesson! I’ve never heard of hare coursing and had to look it up. Doing this, I came across two other new class words: sighthound and lurcher.
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Jon AylingTo Scott AndersonYes, it's a bit of an obscure one! Another strange (and prohibited) activity is "lamping for rabbits", which apparently involves shining a bright light over nighttime fields: the rabbits freeze (as in headlights) and can then be easily picked off. People sometimes hunt (or "bait") badgers too, though that's seriously frowned upon, even by rural folk.
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Crossing the Ouse at the big weir. Crossing this I had a vivid deja vu, it reminding me of the years I lived near and worked in Abingdon.
Heart 0 Comment 0
I call this "under the A421"
Heart 0 Comment 0
Extinction Rebellion reaches Bedfordshire!
Heart 0 Comment 0
All that remains of the exasperated instruction to "pick up poo". I'm afraid I giggle like a schoolboy every time I see this. It's a good rule for life, too.
Heart 0 Comment 0
Coming back across Potton heath. I think this is the third version of this exact view I've posted so far - it's an occupational hazard that most of these routes will begin and end the same way. Still, it's lovely.
Heart 0 Comment 0

Today's ride: 91 km (57 miles)
Total: 573 km (356 miles)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 5
Comment on this entry Comment 0