Mission Mirror - Tour displacement therapy - CycleBlaze

Mission Mirror

An effort to explore some local byways I'd never been down (and to recover my mirror)

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For the following weekend the weather again looked faultlessly good - work had been a bit intense so I decided to plot out a relatively easy short route. If I worked my way back to Chicksands wood I could look for my missing mirror (see previous ride) where I was 99% sure I'd lost it and with a big circular route it would be a just a bit more than 60km, which is all I really felt up for.

To add some interest I decided to make a concerted effort to ride down routes that, even though they were relatively close to home, I'd somehow managed to never ride on before. There was an intriguing blank spot on the map east of Sandy up onto the Greensand ridge - some investigation showed that this was the manor of Hazells Hall, and that I could work my way around the back from the Everton road. Likewise, from Bedford I planned to go South, parallel to (but separate) from the usual route I'd typically take back onto the Greensand. Then instead of returning directly via the Shuttleworth I'd pick my way through the small towns of Shefford and Henlow, both of which I'd never visited in any capacity.

So a relaxed route but hopefully with a bit of novelty. The day was indeed rather fine and still setting off...

Just some high altitude cloud above the sandy tracks and wildflowers outside Potton
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The radar-activated speed warnings in Everton are always a laugh when you're on the bike, but this is the first time I've managed to get a picture of one clocking me at a stonking 12mph. Typically they also display a smiley face if you're going below the (30mph) speed limit, which comes across a bit sarcastic if you're crawling past at 9mph.
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Immediately after passing through the hamlet of Everton we descend the surprisingly steep - 14%! - escarpment of the Greensand ridge
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Down we go! On a good day I've topped 60kph down here, but not today
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First byway completely new to me is a continuation of the old Roman way through the Everton estate, but heading South towards Sandy. It was quite busy with other cyclists today (not pictured)
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Curious track leading back into the blank patch of the map. It transpires that the manor house at Hazells hall has been converted into flats (a two bed one will set you back about 365K)
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I peeled across country and picked up part of the Sandy perimeter cycleway ("green wheel") alongside the rail mainline. We have to go north again in order to cross it and continue towards Bedford.
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Here's the crossing point
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Upbeat graffiti
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It was really rather busy cutting through Sandy on the official cycleway
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From Sandy, less imaginatively, I picked up my standard route to Bedford along the old rail trail via Danish Camp.

The flowers were going strong in the meadows alongside the Ouse
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This must have been dredged out the river - it looks like some old ship's anchor!
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People enjoying the sunshine alongside the Ouse near Bedford
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The river and locks were looking pretty good in the sunshine
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An almost unbroken reflection for this swan
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The centre of Bedford was looking well. The Swan Hotel is of real antiquity - it was built in the 1700s for the Duke of Bedford, and is probably the fanciest place to stay in the town.
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In contrast, the ugliest building beside the river, towering over the pleasant balcony of the boat club, is not some deprived council block but is in fact the local chain hotel
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I left the river in the centre of Bedford and turned to the south. My plan was to work my way through the suburbs to Elstow, a village that had been swallowed by the sprawl of Bedford, from which I could cross the bypass and pick up the John Bunyan trail which lead across the countryside behind the giant airship sheds. 

First I had to reckon with Bedford's appalling one-way system. I'd forgotten how bike-unfriendly and bad this could be: the centre of town is a maelstrom of three and four-lane roads without any cycle infrastructure, funnelled into an obligatory one-way system that makes navigation on-the-fly rather challenging - eespecially when you're trying not to be flattened. Even with the drivers being really careful and courteous, after five minutes I'd had enough and dived into the suburbs, vaguely heading south.

As I've mentioned before, Bedford is a town of contrasts, and the sprawling housing estates surrounding the centre have a somewhat down-at-heel feel to them, while being obviously more prosperous than the very neglected streets around the station. On this Saturday they felt very sleepy and langourous as well - someone had stopped their car in the middle of the road and was just sitting, waiting there. I could get past, but other cars couldn't: but the drivers just sat there, patiently waiting for someone to move.

More flags saluting the NHS in the estates surrounding Bedford town centre
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A completely unremarkable photograph for anyone from southern England, but perhaps a less familiar one for outsiders: a typical state-owned housing estate (known as a council estate) outside Bedford. What with all the quaint villages I've photographed for this journal I figure I should include some variety. As you can see, they're ok - neither terrible nor tremendously attractive.
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After a rather tortuous journey through the suburbs, I emerged on a road clearly heading to the south and spun down the hill, towards the bypass and main Milton Keynes road that I could here roaring below. But to my vocal annoyance as it descended to meet the highway the road curved around, ran parallel for a few hundred metres, and then began to climb up back towards Bedford. What is point of road? I could see a bridge above, clearly crossing the highway, but had no way to get to it. Grrr!

In my annoyance I spotted what looked like a clear path, heading back up the bank and towards the bridge. Great, a way to avoid backtracking I thought...
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There it is, the bridge over the highway. But no, they've erected a big wall between this path and the bridge. *Both* sides are accessible to the public - gah!
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After significant backtracking, and adding a couple of kilometres onto the ride, I made my way into Elstow on the other (west) side. Elstow is a weird place, a very traditional and pretty fancy village, now surrounded by Bedford and the bypass but strangely marooned - it looks like they've deliberately prevented any access from the highway to stop people rat-running their cars through the village to get to Bedford.

Some lovely original timber frame buildings in Elstow. 300-400 years old, I reckon.
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Somehow I find these uneven houses even more impressive
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Finally, on top of the bridge over the bypass. I was on the other side of the big wall on the right about 20 minutes ago...
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Immediately after crossing the A421 I could, with some relief, pick up the John Bunyan trail which would take me 7km or so off-road to the vicinity of Haynes and Chicksand wood. I was again surprised at the number of families out cycling on this (sometimes rather rough) track - people really were keen to get outside.

In the distance are the giant airship hangars at Cardington - the new build houses at Shortstown in the foreground give some sense of how big they are.
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Kathleen JonesNever heard of the Cardington Sheds until a few years ago when they had a twitter conversation with Moffett Hangar 1, also an airship hangar here in California. (Hangar 1 is now just a frame since its shell was removed because it was full of asbestos. The Google Boys paid the $1M to have that done. For a while they were allowed to fly their personal 747s in and out of Moffett Field next door to the Googleplex.)
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1 month ago
The going was really good
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There were brief patches of tarmac of country lanes that strangely terminate before the Greensand ridge.
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A rather subtle sticker indicating this is the John Bunyan way
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Climbing back up the Greensand, which has followed us south-west from Sandy
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Great views from the top back over Bedford
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Potholes in the track had been filled back in with bricks. I stopped for a closer look, and was pleased to see that they're actually local bricks from the Marston Vale brickyards - which ties in nicely with my previous ride past the enormous decommissioned brickworks at Stewartby.
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The track led through this farmyard, inside which was hidden this strange little half-timbered structure on bricks. Maybe David Cameron is hiding in there?
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Soon I reached the village of Haynes, and continued along the road toward Appley Corner where I could retrace my steps and look for my missing mirror.

Stick lodged in a chain-link fence in Haynes. I often see this phenomenon, and am a bit puzzled as to how they get there. Blown by the wind?
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Bill ShaneyfeltI have helped remove trees growing through fences. Leaving branches that have grown around the wires is often the best course of action.
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1 month ago
Jon AylingAh, that's why!
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1 month ago
Rolling and very green countryside near Haynes
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Before I looked for my mirror I decided to fortify myself first by having lunch
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It was a really idyllic spot, and I sat in the meadow and picniced
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After lunch, I wondered down the hedgerow, GPS in hand, looking for the exact spot I'd burst through the hawthorn hedge. At first I wasn't sure I'd by able to reliably find it, and then all at once I was certain I'd found the spot.

There followed a slightly embarrassing 15 minutes of casting around the undergrowth and peering under the hedge. I had no luck at all finding the mirror. At one point a chap on the other side of the hedge, in the woods, caught sight of me - and given how strange it looked, I figured I should explain what I was doing. "I've lost a cycle mirror, of all things" I told him. "Ah, I thought you were an entomologist and had found an interesting insect" he laughingly replied. "Can't find it," I told him - "a magpie must have had it".

The exact spot I inexplicably decided to burst through the hedge last week and lost my mirror. Sadly, there was no sign of it (though I continue to scrutinise this photo in case it's hiding in plain sight somewhere). It's such an obscure spot I doubt anyone's taken it - my best guess is some magpie has it in its nest...
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After 20 minutes or so I gave it up as a loss - oh well, it was a good to return to the lovely woods - and continued on my way back to the east.

It really it an excellent woodland. Actually I suspect officially you're not allowed to cycle here, but I don't think anyone minds much.
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The main avenue through the centre of the woods
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A curious obelisk in the middle of the woods...
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...turn out to be in memorium of this 18th century big cheese, the Earl of Halifax. He did seem rather diftinguished.
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Leaving the woods I continued on towards Chicksands itself, following the same route as last week
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All this elaborate agricultural equipment seems to below to the dealer further down the road
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I pass the large military base which is between here and the offices of Central Bedfordshire council
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I emerged on the A600 Bedford-Hitchin road, and crossed it to reach the small town of Shefford. I'd never been here before, but it has a very similar Central Bedfordshire vibe as somewhere like Biggleswade and looks rather nice.

The high street in Shefford. I got a good feeling about the small town going through it.
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A nice blue pub
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"Are you ready to change your life, are you?"
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From Shefford I followed the minor roads through to the villages of Clifton and Henlow, becoming progressively more gentrified and fancy as I got closer to the A1 and East Coast rail line corridor and the wealthy commuters they serve.

Nice old arch in Clifton
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Incredible narrow old house
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Only the fanciest villages have (rather precious) duck warning signs. In this case, though, they seem to be justified.
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All Saints church in Clifton celebrated its 700 year anniversary this year
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Good gargoyles
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I road on the separate cycleway towards Henlow. As I neared the village, I could see a very middle-class family had managed to block the way by laying their bikes down across the path - I circumnavigated them with lots of "sorry, sorry!" from both sides. After passing, I could see why they'd stopped - for some reason an escaped peacock was strolling around the field beside the road.

Random peacock in the middle of a farmer's field. What he was doing here, I have no idea.
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St. Mary's in Henlow is mostly 15th century. Interestingly, the church has multiple connections with the Pilgrim fathers - several members of the Tilley family attended at one time.
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In Henlow, I planned to leave the road and to follow a well-established cycleroute to the north alongside the river Hiz, which flows up from Hitchin before joining the Ivel towards Biggleswade. There were quite a few people about, but it was still a nice, chilled-out ride.

The cycleway out of Henlow
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The river here feeds several small lakes, which seem to be the result of gravel or other open extraction
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1. No running with fish. 2. No smelly fish. 3. Just, no fish, alright.
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Excellent wisteria. The fanciness of the cars outside even the modest houses dramatically increases as we get nearer to the A1.
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Reaching Langford, I turned north through the village, and then struck off road again, to pick up the tracks weaving between the wind turbines south of Biggleswade. First I needed to re-cross the main (east coast) rail line. This is four lines wide and the express trains fly through here at 125mph, but amazingly there are still a number of pedestrian crossings.

The pedestrian crossing of the East Coast Mainline. The fine for not closing the gates is so high because there is apparently a really big problem with livestock, particularly cows, wandering onto the lines. You can imagine that a train travelling at 100mph+ does not want to encounter a half tonne of cow, so this is apparently one of the most common causes of line closures.
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(Carefully) crossing the East Coast mainline. You get quite a lot of warning if a train is coming, as the rails "sing" for about a minute beforehand. They travel so fast though that even seeing one in the distance will be on you within seconds.
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Working my way along the tracks towards the wind farm
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The wind turbines were spinning merrily outside Biggleswade
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Synchronised spinning
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Silhouette of wind turbines
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In the distance, a long and very empty train going past on the mainline
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Those unpicked crops, and crates to collect them, from a few weeks ago were still there
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Nearing Biggleswade, some yarnbombers have really gone to town decorating the trees with all sorts of home-made pompoms
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Which got increasingly dense the closer to town
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Then it was (what must be now, for readers of this journal) the very familiar off-road return across Biggleswade common and back up the Greensand through the RSPB reserve.

Biggleswade common. Unusually, it had clouded in.
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Always a stiff climb up the RSPB, but a nice quiet way to return home
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Creeping through the bushes through Deepdale to get back to Potton
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Today's ride: 63 km (39 miles)
Total: 1,270 km (789 miles)

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Mike AylingAnother interesting ride,Jon.
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1 month ago