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Ride through Four English Counties in Half a Day – Essex, Herts, Cambs & Beds

March 4, 2017

This ride will surprise and delight, as there’s something for everyone, whether you’re a speed buff out for a fast blast or a jog-along biker. What’s more, there are some stunning vistas in what is a pretty flat landscape, with beautiful wide-open skies and views to the far horizon.

It takes in pretty villages and roads which, in this potholed age, are remarkable for their smoothness. Most are minor, but you’ll be surprised by the number of fast straights and sweeping bends. Because of the rural nature of the ride, most of the maren’t even B-roads, but it’s all pretty straightforward to follow.

From Old Harlow, head north on the A1184 through Saw bridge worth, then half a mile beyond the lights take a left  on the unclassified road to Much Had ham and Green Tye – it’s very quiet, and a chance to really press on along the open straights. Another couple of miles on, turn left at the crossroads for Green Tye, and then left at the church and pootle through Perry Green.

The  church’s graveyard is the resting place of sculptor Henry Moore and his wife Irina, and in the village have a stop (I know it’s early) at the Henry Moore Foundation gardens – all his sculptures are on display, and it’s open to the public. Watch out for the giant Moore bronze in a field, a mile up the road.

Back on the bike, turn right on the B1004 through Much Had ham, then just as you leave the village take a left onto another unmarked road to Standon. It’s a pretty little village, but then you quickly turn left onto the A120 for a mile or so. At the big roundabout, go right onto the A10 for Cambridge, and press on for three miles to the unclassified road to Sandon.

Into The Shire

If you’re ready for a cuppa (well it is thirsty work), come off the A10 early for West mill and its tea shop – if that’s full, carry on to the small town of Bunting ford, full of independent shops and cafes. Afterwards, it’s easy to find your way back to the A10, where you turn left then immediately right onto the road to Sandon.

At Sandon, bear right at the junction, signed Royston, and enjoy a really great fast stretch all the way down to the A505. Left here, then after just half mile turn right for Ash well. You’re now into the beautiful chalk lands of the district, sweeping vistas opening up all the time. The quietness of these roads is wonderful, and the surfaces are great in comparison with the horrors of most roads further south.

Stop off in Ash well if you have the time – the church is worth a visit; a huge edifice that commands attention from approaches miles away. Turn right at the next T-junction and carry on through Ash well, then left into Station Road (just past the cricket pitch) then right on the GuildenMorden road.

From here on, the tarmac is fantastic for miles – fast and inviting as we leave Hertfordshire, dip into Beds before crossing into Cambridge shire, all within a few miles. Head straight over the crossroads with the B1042, then at the bottom of the hill turn right on the Hatley road, which gives a little detour through open countryside, passing an ancient sign for Cockayne and Hatley by the roadside. Climb to the imposing water tower, then a fast downhill to turn right on the B1040 Gamlingay road.

There isn’t much to see here (apologies to all Gamlingay residents) so filter right just before town, signed Hatley and Croydon, then right again after few hundred yards, signed to the same places. This is another great stretch of open road, through the little hamlet of Hatley St George, with its open parkland estate and ancient chursch, before several miles of press-on opportunity to a T-junction with the B1042.

Left here, and another blast all the way to the roundabout at the A1198; the Old North Road. Turn right here, and after another couple of miles you hit the A505 at a roundabout. Turn le and follow signs for Royston, including a stretch of A10.

At the risk of upsetting more local residents, I have to say that modern day Royston doesn’t have a lot to recommend it scenically. However, it is an ancient seat of kings, hence the name. James VI of Scotland, on his way to become James I of England (yes, it is confusing) dallied here, and liked it so much he made it his leisure locale, setting up residence for all his future hunting activities. As royals used to do, he forbade any hunting of game within a 16mile radius, as he wanted it all for himself. Royston is also famous for having its own bank, which eventually merged with Barclays; should have stayed independent…

If you’re now short of time, you can just blast straight back down the A10, but it’s far more interesting to look for the B1039 to Bark way out of Royston – it’s a lovely little detour and a great stretch of road. In Bark way, turn right at the T-junction onto the B1368 and carry on through several villages before rejoining the A10, where you take a left at the roundabout. Then it’s fast and open dual-carriageway until the Harlow turn-off and back on the A414.

So that’s it, about 86 miles in all – say three hours plus any time spent sipping tea or gazing at Henry Moore sculptures or local views (or maybe all at the same time). And how many other rides can you devise which travel through four counties in the space of three hours?

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