The Flying Bum - Tour displacement therapy - CycleBlaze

The Flying Bum

Riding out with Caroline

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Come the weekend, and we both have cabin fever from working at home the whole week. While we're both very lucky to have secure jobs we can perform remotely in the viral climate, that doesn't stop work being a drag sometimes, and it's good to get out for our government-approved single form of exercise a day.

I gave Caroline's mountain bike a bit of a tune up - it didn't really need much more than a little air and oil - actually, I've been out of bike oil for a while, so (and I apologise in advance for this terribly middle class sentence) I used a bit of olive oil to lubricate the chain. Probably not very good for it, but it does make it taste better.

This is the first time for Caroline on the bike in over a year. My judgement was clearly quite out-to-lunch, since I decided to take us on a 4okm off-road extravaganza, on one of my favourite loops around the county. This is an excellent route - about 80% of it is offroad, and it's both beautiful and full of interest. She handled it like an incredible pro.

I refer to it as the flying bum route because it takes us close to the airship sheds at Cardington. Amazingly, this is home to the efforts to build the biggest commercially viable airship right here in Bedfordshire. For two years, I would frequently see the prototype, airlander 10, tethered outside the hangars or (on a few memorable occasions) flying around the area. Its distinctive shape has earned it the affectionate moniker the Flying Bum. It's genuinely massive - when flying at full height, I spotted and identified it driving back from Essex about 40 miles away. Sadly the prototype has outlived its usefulness (and crashed a couple of times) and I've yet to see the follow-up. The airship hangers are pretty amazing in themselves, though.

The first part of the route follows the myriad bridleways out of Potton, and down into Sandy. This time I have pictures. Potton is disarmingly pretty on days like this.

Farmland, woodland, and our town's mast on the heath above Potton
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This is my kind of route. The soil is sandy, and so is almost always well drained but doesn't become dusty. Much better than the sticky Cambridgeshire clay.
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You can ride all over here, it's all public access. Lots of shots of Caroline's back (as she left me in the dust)
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Rachael AndersonGreat job, Caroline!
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2 months ago
Mast and branches
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Entering the woods around Deepdale
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We sped down the hill and into Sandy, crossing the small town through the cycleway which uses a confusing patchwork of suburban roads and dedicated sections. Amusingly, Sandy has a reputation as being the "rougher" town out of Biggleswade and Potton. This is a bit of a joke, and it's really quite a charming place with lots of cafés (all shut now, of course).

From Sandy we take the dedicated cycleway following the course of the old Bedford-Cambridge railway (the same one I returned home on the previous two trips). For 120 years trains ran on the major east-west route from Cambridge to Bedford, and thence to Bletchley (before Milton Keynes was constructed) and Oxford, known as the Varsity line. Following the infamous 1960s Beeching report, huge swathes of local rail services where discontinued and the track sold off. The government has had time to repent at leisure: there is now huge demand for good east-west connection (currently you have to go into central London), but most of the land has been sold off or built on. There project to rebuild the line is underway, but will probably take us into the 2030s at least.

A silver lining is that the route has been turned into an excellent cycleway, by far the quickest route between Sandy and Bedford. If you go flat out, you can cover it in 30-40 minutes, which is certainly faster than the bus and competitive with driving it.

The route runs roughly along the valleys of the Ivel, the local river linking Sandy and Biggleswade, and its confluence with the Great Ouse, the major river of East Anglia which gathers up the Ivel and the Cam and flows into the North Sea. The Ouse was a major point of ingress for those pesky raiding Viking Danes - so much so, that in the 9th and 10th century, a whole Norse kingdom was established in eastern England, called the Danelaw. Before Bedford is the further extent the Danes penetrated: a settlement, including a moat and a harbour on the Ouse, is still extant here, and is known locally as "Danish Camp". The site normally has a Norwegian log cabin and ice-cream stands open, but of course this was all closed.

Danish camp, sadly all closed up
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Some really noisy chickens
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Dodging the other couples and families out taking the air, we turned off down the small bridleways that cut down to the village of Cople. These are tiny, quite rough tracks, and I can usually guarantee nobody else will be near them. So I was astonished to pass a couple of other people exploring the lanes. The enforced seclusion has really encouraged people to explore the local area in the times they could get outdoor.

We passed through the pretty village of Cople, and then it was back out into the fields for a long 3.5km run over a really quite rough surface and into the wind to the south. This is the most obscure part of the run - but again, we ran into a jogger. We also saw a hare loping off on the horizon.

The extremely old church in Cople. Originally built in 11th century, it has been rebuilt and extended in the 15th and 16th. Sign on the door is a Covid-19 warning, rather than a sign of a new Luther.
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Pretty but rough stretch heading out into the fields south of Cople
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Then it's a steep climb through root-straddled woodland up onto the Greensand ridge. It's a tricky climb, but the views back over towards Bedford are superb. Sadly there was no evidence of the Flying bum, or its successor, about today.

Looking back towards Bedford from the top of the hill. The town is mostly low-rise and quite hard to see; rather the view is dominated by the enormous airfield hangars at Cardington.
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It's hard to get a sense of how huge these are, but the trees give some idea of scale
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Understandably there was some pushing involved at this point
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At the top, we could turn away from the wind for a glorious ride along the top of the ridge. We were now now out-the-way and it was quite empty, apart from an impressive deer we saw bounding other the fields.

It's a lovely route and generally smooth going
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Rural crime!
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We then pass through the woods and agricultural college attached to the Shuttleworth estate. Cutting back down to the road affords some great views of Shuttleworth hall at Old Warden.

Cutting through the Shuttleworth lands
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Shuttleworth house
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This is always a nice cruise down
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Regaining the road for the first time since Cople, we had a short spin down the hill towards the Shuttleworth airfield. Then we could cut through on bridleways and past the old gravel pits, under the A1 and through the drainage tunnel (still no photo, damn) and into Biggleswade. Biggleswade centre was very quiet. We quickly made our way through town and across the common, back towards the RSPB reserve to climb the hill back to Potton. Caroline made it up this 8% slope without pushing, which was a fairly amazing effort considering she hadn't been on the bike in a year.

Top of the hill outside Shuttleworth. I always like this lone pine.
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Crossing Biggleswade common in the lovely light
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Back to the mast
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Today's ride: 41 km (25 miles)
Total: 482 km (299 miles)

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Rachael AndersonGreat to hear from you again and glad you had someone to ride with you.
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2 months ago