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One star Aviation Ride

Posted on Monday 29 January 2018 by Charles Harvey

Sometimes rides don’t go as you hoped. This one started badly when I had a spectacular blow out in my rear tyre en route to the station. Fortunately, I always take an early train if I’m leading a ride so I had time to fix it and still get to Radlett in time to meet seven other riders.

The theme of this ride was aviation history. It’s perhaps inevitable that I have an interest in it. My mother was in the Air Force during the war and I grew up near RAF Hendon, now the site of the RAF Museum. Our first stops were the two sites in Radlett occupied by 80 (Signals) Wing during the 2nd World War. They were occupied in trying to locate the navigation beams used by the German bomber force. They then used this knowledge to warn the defences about impending raids and worked to jam or distort the beams.

After brunch at the Orchard Café in Shenley Park, we headed towards Salisbury Hall. Sadly, we then had an accident. Colin went into a hedge after losing his balance when he went over a pothole that was disguised by a puddle. His handlebars were badly bent and his coat torn but, fortunately, he just had some minor scratches and carried on with the ride. It looks as though the handlebars took most of the impact.

At Salisbury Hall, we learned about its use during the last war by De Havilland’s design bureau. The Mosquito was designed there and the fighter prototype flown off from the field behind it. It is now the site of the De Havilland Aircraft Museum.

An off road route took us to the site of the former London Colney airfield. It was here that 56 Squadron, a crack fighter unit, worked up on the new SE5 fighter before heading of to France to take on the Richthofen squadron. We also visited Shenleybury Church Yard and saw the graves of two pilots killed in flying accidents there in 1918.

A bridlepath took us the across the airfield site. There’s no trace of the airfield now. It was simply a grass field and was returned to agriculture after 1918 though the hangars were subsequently used as warehouses and survived until about fifteen years ago.

The last part of the ride went wrong. My planned off road route to our final destination, the site of the former Handley Page works and airfield, was too muddy to ride on and the route we finally used was muddy and depressing, made ugly by fly tipping. When we got to Moor Mill, our planned tea stop, the staff claimed that they were too busy to serve us tea and coffee. Next time, we will skip this section of the ride.  We headed back along the main road to Radlett and just missed a train. To cap it all, my rear tyre blew out again just as I was getting home.

My thanks to John Silvertown and Pat Wheeler for acting as backstops.

Blue plaque ride, January 2018

Posted on Monday 15 January 2018 by Charles Harvey

For some years, Brian has led a ride visiting blue plaques in Camden and I have led one that visits blue plaques in Barnet. Last year we combined the two rides. It went well so we did it again this year.

13 riders met up by Finchley Road station at 10.00 and headed up a very steep slope that one had to push up. Our first stop was the plaque to Sidney and Beatrice Webb, who helped found both the Fabian Society and the London School of Economics. It would take pages to list every plaque, memorial or grave we looked at but those commemorated included Sigmund Freud, Edward Elgar, John Constable, Cecil Sharp, Robert Louis Stevenson, Evelyn Waugh, Harold Wilson, Tony Hancock and Ralph Richardson.

The route climbed up through Hampstead Village to the Whitestone Pond then down through North End to lunch at the café at Golders Hill Park. We then rode round the original part of Hampstead Garden Suburb and the Hampstead Heath Extension before pushing our bikes up a steep path on Hampstead Heath to near the Spaniards Inn. We returned to the Whitestone Pond and then descended past the plaque commemorating Paul Robeson’s time in London. A few doors away, I spotted another plaque to an Alfred Reynolds, a Hungarian philosopher and poet that even the Hungarian on our ride had never heard of. Can anyone enlighten me on how he came to get a blue plaque? We finished at the café at the Camden Arts Centre, close to our original start point.

The ride seems to have gone down well and Brian and I hope to lead another blue plaque ride next year. No doubt, we will tweak the route slightly. One thing we will change is to add to the entry on the rides list the advice to bring extra warm clothing. The ride is inevitably a stop start one as we stop to look at blue plaques and hear about the people they commemorate. So one does not build up heat as one would on a continuous ride. Two riders left the ride, one in the morning and one after lunch, as they were getting too cold.


Posted on Monday 8 January 2018 by Charles Harvey

This ride with an espionage theme was led under  Spokes’ auspices but was also put on the CLCTC rides list as a one star ride. It’s a ride I’ve led many times before and, since many people have already ridden it and it was very cold, I wasn’t expecting large numbers. Rather to my surprise, 16 people turned up at our rendezvous point at the Cha Café in Cassiobury Park.

Almost at once, we hit our first problem. Jiten had a puncture within a minute of starting. As we were just outside Watford Metropolitan Line Station and he could get home easily, he decided to turn back rather than let the rest of us get very cold while it was fixed. This self-sacrifice is much appreciated and I look forward to seeing him again on future rides.

From Watford, the ride went up through Whippendell Wood to Chandlers Cross and then to Belsize and Flaunden. All the time we were climbing gradually to the top of this part of the Chilterns. It was sunny and the wooded landscape looked attractive. We arrived at The Green Dragon at Flaunden at 12.00 just as it opened. The Green Dragon used to serve mainly Thai food but nowadays serves traditional pub grub and, this being Sunday, Sunday roast.

In the early 1950s, Guy Burgess often stayed in Flaunden and was a regular drinker at this pub. One day the landlord noticed Burgess in deep conversation with another man he did not recognise. Days later, the papers were full of details of the defection of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean to Moscow complete with photos and the landlord recognised who the other man was. More details here.

After lunch, we returned to Watford via Sarratt, which is the home of the Circus’s training school for agents in John Le Carre’s spy novels. We were going mainly downhill now and made it back to Watford about 15.00. The ride didn’t so much finish as disintegrate as riders peeled off to go to their homes. We planned to visit the Cha Café again, but with a queue stretching back to the entrance, we decided it wasn’t worth waiting and headed to Watford Junction station.


Beer and Bunyan ride 23 Dec 2017

Posted on Monday 1 January 2018 by Charles Harvey

I’ve never led a ride so close to Christmas before so I was unsure how many riders I’d get. In the event, we had seven on the ride. As it was almost the shortest day of the year, the ride was inevitably a short one, especially as it included a trip to a brewery.

I first came across Farr Brew when I tried their beer at a blues gig by The Untouchables at Wheathampstead and I came across their beer again at the Kimpton Folk Festival. I’m always on the lookout for interesting places to take bike rides to so I’ve wanted to lead a ride to their brewery for some time. I finally found an open day at the brewery when I was free to lead a ride on the 23rd December. We rode out to the brewery, which is in farm outbuildings at Colemans Green, via Sandridgebury and Sandridge, taking about an hour. We stopped to have a look at the remains of a cottage where John Bunyan is believed to have stayed while preaching in the area. There’s no way or proving it but I’m inclined to believe that the tradition is true. Though Bunyan was based in Bedford, he did preach extensively in Hertfordshire and the county was a centre of religious dissent.

At the brewery, we had a half hour talk on how beer is brewed and the opportunity to have a beer there or take a bottle with us. Then it was back past the John Bunyan cottage to the John Bunyan pub for lunch.

After lunch, we had a short ride though Symondshyde Great Wood and Peacock Hill back to Sandridge for tea at the newly opened Heartwood Tea Rooms. Then it was back to St Albans while it was still light to catch the 15.48 train back to London.

My thanks to Pat Wheeler for acting as backstop throughout the ride.

One-star ride to the Docklands Museum

Posted on Tuesday 31 October 2017 by Charles Harvey

Rather to my surprise, 16 turned up for the ride. I suspect that it was the appeal of a late start and the fact that the clocks had gone back the previous night helped. Our start was slightly delayed when one of our number found she had a puncture in a tyre that was very hard to lever off the rim. Fortunately, there was a branch of Evans nearby where a mechanic was able to remove it easily without even using tyre levers. How do these professionals do it?

I’m quite shameless when it comes to recycling (pun intended) old rides. The route, best described as labyrinthine, was the same one as I used at Easter for Barnet Cyclists and number of Barnet Cyclist members who hadn’t been able to come at Easter joined us. The route twisted and turned until we reached CS3 at Lower Thames Street near Southwark Bridge. From there CS3 is almost a straight-line route to the Docklands Museum. En route, we looked at various plaques and memorials, to William Wallace, the Scottish patriot, to the Battle of Cable Street (commemorated by both a plaque and a mural) and to the chemist Sir William Perkin, who discovered the first aniline dye.

Once at the museum, we had two hours to have lunch and look round the museum. Few on the ride had been there before and were impressed by its size and the quality of the exhibits. We used the Thames Path to return and had some spectacular views of the river. Passing back through the City of London, we paused to look at Postman’s Park and George Frederick Watts’ distinctive memorial to those who lost their lives trying to save others. We returned to King’s Cross at 16.00.

I’d like to record my particular thanks to Geoff Stilwell, who acted as backstop throughout the ride. The fact that nobody got separated from the group in what was a complicated and twisty route is due to him.

Flamstead Scarecrow Festival

Posted on Monday 14 August 2017 by Charles Harvey

Flamstead is normally a quiet Hertfordshire village but once a year it turns into a surrealistic environment. The whole village is full of scarecrows. The reason for this is the annual Scarecrow Festival held in support of local Multiple Sclerosis charities. There are barbeques, live music, morris dancing – the whole village is en fete.

Nine riders met up at Harpenden station and got to Flamstead about 11.15. After the obligatory coffee, tea and cakes in the village hall, most of us decided to ride on to the village of Studham for lunch at The Red Lion. We were heading into the fringes of the Chilterns and gradually climbing. After lunch, we headed back to Flamstead rather faster with the gradient in our favour. We arrived at Trowley Bottom at the fringe of the village to find the Aldbury morris dancers performing outside the Rose and Crown. Our ride to the centre of the village was enlivened by the sight of a huge Co-Op lorry stuck in one of the narrow twisty lanes unable to move. The driver had to call the police to sort out the resulting traffic chaos. We were glad we were on bicycles.

Back at the village hall three of our number decided to head straight back to Harpenden. The remaining six enjoyed more tea and cakes, more folk dancing and an entertaining ukulele band. We left at 16.30 and headed back to the station stopping to help a cyclist who had punctured twice and was walking her bike back to Harpenden. It was a good team effort and we soon got her back on the road. We got back to find that a fast train to St Pancras was leaving in few minutes.

Friday Night Ride to the Coast

Posted on Friday 28 July 2017 by Nick Bloom

I’ve always liked cycling at night. After midnight, as even the clubbers drift home, the streets go silent. Riding into the countryside, the wildlife appears, shocked at a silent intruder gliding past. It’s rarely that dark (except in the woods). Our eyes acclimatise, our hearing sharpens. There’s activity all around. Distant glow from industry, the passing hubbub of a late party. Reflective eyes from a fox disturbed. A break after a few hours at some lonesome service station, then the early chill and tiredness. A glimmer, then, almost rudely, dawn. The early, early crowd rushing to their shift, perplexed. And rest, avoid the rush hour, eat, recover. Snooze on the train home.

Tempted? The Friday Night Ride to the Coast is an easy introduction. Sort of once a month, from early spring to late autumn, The Fridays have a monthly ride which usually starts at Southbank. And goes, as you might expect, to a coast, arriving for breakfast for 08.00. About 100km, with a long and leisurely stop halfway. Expect 40-50 riders on all sorts of bike (and even trikes), all ages, a high proportion of women. This is a friendly group ride – social rather than sporting. The front end can get brisk, the back end can be very relaxed, but nobody gets dropped. It would be suitable for any Central London rider who can manage one of my ‘slower 3*’ rides.

The next ride , to Whitstable on Friday August 25th into Saturday 26th, is a nice taster – a popular ride, not demanding, with plenty of sights. Village Hall at half-way, plus a couple of full-service comfort stops. Breakfast by the beach and plenty of trains back to London. If you’re interested, Have a look at the website.

You must sign-up in advance using the form on the ride page. £2 fee per year (there’s also the Xmas night ride round London), CTC membership required after one ‘taster’ – details on their site.

Some tips:

  1. check your bike thoroughly before you set off, especially tyres – pick out any flints, etc.
  2. bring two tubes and pump / levers.
  3. you need a decent ‘see by’ front light which will last six hours on a suitable beam. If you’re on a dynamo, bring a back-up or torch for emergencies. Your back light needs to last six hours on constant – no flashing lights please. Most USB rear lights don’t last this long.
  4. it will feel chilly when you leave the village hall, but it soon warms up – a shell should do, but each to their own.
  5. you don’t need to bring the kitchen sink. Bikes are not left unattended, there’s food and drink at 50km, plenty of mechanics. The only spare clothing I carry is my waterproof (and I don’t always take that).
  6. turn up well before the start to meet people and hear the briefing.


If you’ve any questions or concerns, you can ask me – nick@centrallondonctc.org.uk / 07768 354010

The race of truth (in post-truth times)

Posted on Tuesday 27 June 2017 by Jon McColl

What better way, as an occasional racing cyclist, to counter the disturbing ascendancy of alternative facts than to compete in the race of truth? Two indisputable numbers: a distance, and a time.  No room for misrepresentation or relativist interpretation, just an indisputable universal truth.

As a consequence I found myself, together with Alex Marzec of OV Cycling Club, on the start line of the Victoria CC 16.4km event for my first 2-up TTT. Conditions were nearly perfect: warm, but not overly so, with virtually no wind.  The course (E1/10A, don’t ask) is on the B1383 northwest of Saffron Walden.  It is undulating, out-and-back with just one turn at a roundabout.  No dual-carriageway dragstrip this.

Alex and I had ridden together only once before. We’d had a 30-minute session around Regent’s Park practising our changes and following closely on each other’s wheel.  This had gone well and we were hopeful of a respectable TTT result.

We started cautiously, not wishing to go out too fast. Short turns on the front and judging our efforts by perceived exertion – no power metres for us.  My latest indulgence – a self-built Condor Ultima TT bike – was riding beautifully.  We got into a steady rhythm and reached the turn with sufficient in the tank for the return leg.

Rule 82 observed – no gap here
© Garry Bowden | Sport in Pictures (www.sportinpictures.co.uk)

Now we were pushing harder. Alex leading up the drags but, with lactic acid levels beginning to build in my legs, small gaps opening up occasionally.  Calls of “easy” on my part ensured we stayed together.  I was marginally faster on the downhills.  On the flat sections of the course we were evenly matched and kept a tight formation – saving energy in each other’s slipstream.  The final mile was an all-out effort.  We crossed the finish line in a time of 27min 33sec; an average speed of just over 22.2mph and 1min 17sec quicker than the Veterans’ Time Trials Association standard.  A better result than either of us had expected.

Somewhat foolishly I had also entered the event as a solo rider. I was off again an hour after the finish of the 2-up ride, having had little time for recovery.  The result of my solo effort; an underwhelming 30min 47sec (2min 42sec worse than standard) and more than 11 minutes outside the course record held by a Mr A Dowsett.

Sometimes, the truth hurts.

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