Posted on Wednesday 27 June 2012 by Martin Hayman
None of the usual suspects much fancied the schlep over to Chelmsford for the Audax posted in the calendar. In light of the drab weather forecast, the counter-proposal, hatched over Saturday breakfast at Café Italia Uno, was modest indeed: off from Highgate for a trundle up to Hertford.
At Barnet Church at 09.00, the prospect was dreich. The expected Atlantic front (again!) had brought 100% low grey cloud cover scudding in and the stiff cool breeze had a trace of imminent drizzle in it. The 20-minute wait for the Highgate party to arrive was time enough for bare knees to get chilly. Four arrived together to join Phil and me, with a late-rising Damian hustling to make the RV moments later.
The upside of the gloomy conditions, as we rolled over Potter’s Bar and took the familiar right into Kentish Lane, was an absence of motor traffic; even so, it felt more like April than midsummer.
Coffee in our favourite café in Hertford heartened the crew and emboldened the creators of plan B which, unbeknownst to me, had been cooked up on Facebook the previous day: ride on to Cambridge, taking advantage of the favourable south-westerly.
This required me to break out of my long-standing prejudice against visiting my alma mater; not just because the protocol of Ken’s regular ride thither is ‘fixed-friendly’ (my fixed has been in mothballs since last October) but…it stirs up memories of a distant golden age that has nothing to do with my life now.
The sky had lightened by the time we exited Hertford, and rifts in the cloud showed some blue. The day would be fine, well fine-ish. Phil, with plenty of miles in his legs from the Majorca camp and sundry high-achieving sportives, took the lead and we were happy with that.
His route was by way of a preview to his forthcoming Dreaming Spires #2 (4*, 26 August), in mostly country lanes and avoiding the vile A10 (ride route here). Somewhere along the way Phil had scoped out a brunch stop at a new farm shop and the two quiet couples taking tea there were, I think, rather startled by the arrival of a bunch of brightly-clad and by now quite boisterous metropolitans.
The storm was by no means spent however and at one point we had to cape up as we brushed the edge of an eddy that swirled this way and that and had evidently dropped torrential rain in the last hour: the road was inundated for a good 50 metres, just too long to coast through and avoid dipping a foot in the flood.
Cambridge exerts a magnetic effect on its surrounds, not least, for bike riders, because the south-westerly approach declines gently. Phil’s preview cites a fast and flat finish and we tonked along in fine order at more than evens, some others of us now taking turns on the front. Turning into the Shelfords, I apprehended that we were now inside the magic zone, but I had no knowledge of the cycle path from there to the back of the new Addenbrooke’s hospital, avoiding the heavy traffic through Trumpington and Grantchester on the A10.
All of a sudden we were on the Hills Road, changed indeed from the last time I had been here, and turning right into Station Road. Cambridge station was a scene of great busyness – the London line is one of the most heavily-used in the UK – and mid-Sunday afternoon seems to be favourite for ave atque vale. As we loafed around in the afternoon sunshine in front of the station, I recalled with exceptional clarity the shy Bluecoat schoolboy on his first visit, stepping out from here to walk downtown to Magdalene College for interview with the Master and my future tutors.
As we go to join the train, Charlie buys an Observer newspaper, which leads on Canterbury’s dismissal of the Tories’ big society project as ‘waffle’. As it happens, Rowan Williams (my exact contemporary and a schoolboy in the same village in south Wales) becomes Master of Magdalene College in January. Evensong in college chapel will for sure be a bigger draw than ever it was.
What a surprising day it turned out to be.
Riders: Charlie, Damian, Keith, Martin, Mike, Naomi, Phil