The thought receptacle

Stephen's mental dustbin

Mon, 04 Apr 2011

The big one: Cambridge to Oxford

This is a ride I've been meaning to do for ages. When Alan suggested it, I could not refuse. I began a few miles out in Oakington, and joined Alan in Newnham (as betrayed by the map). The total distance I travelled (not counting my ride home from the station!) is 145.2 km or 90.8mi. The first leg, from Oakington to Newnham, is 5.6mi or 9.0km, making Cambridge-to-Oxford proper by this route about 85mi---slightly shorter routes are available, as I'll mention.

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I don't really have time to talk through the route in detail, except that the first 35-ish miles I planned myself, as far as Steppingley, and the remainder is identical to Richard's route (taking the Kingswood diversion to avoid Ashendon hill). Richard's leaves Cambridge via the B1046, crosses the A1 on the level at Beeston near Sandy, and is slightly shorter. I've done that section of the route before, and it's fine, but I was slightly bored of it. It doesn't have a huge amount of scenery to offer, except the big after leaving the B-road towards Gamlingay. My alternative leaves Cambridge by the slightly quieter and more scenic route through Haslingfield, Barrington and out towards Ashwell, crosses the A1 on a handy bridge at Edworth, and is slightly longer and hillier.

I think that's a good trade, particularly since I decided I was still somewhat (unjustifiedly) terrified of crossing the A1 on the level a second time, but it's a bit of a personal taste thing. That's particularly in respect of the second of three would-do-differentlies. First of these is that after crossing the A1 and entering Langford, we skipped a bit of the busy-ish B-road (formerly A6001) by taking a permissive track. This wasn't worth doing---it's a short stretch and the track is too gravelly for comfort. Secondly, and most trickily, we made the inverse decision, probably the wrong one, between Gravenhurst and Silsoe: rather than taking the bridleway (which Google Maps claims is navigable by car, but appears not to be), we diverted up towards the A-road and back down. Google's aerial photographs reveal that the track continues as such for just over 1km, then becomes paved. The diversion up towards the A-road is probably 1km longer, and has other major disadvantages: it crosses the A6 on the level rather than on a bridge, has a few wearing climbs, and bizarrely, once you cross the A6 you have negotiate a couple of gates and a pile of rubbish. to get into the village proper! Much later, the final would-do-differently is that although we opted not to take the diversion via Elsfield on approach to Oxford, it's well worth it, because it avoids a giant descent-then-ascent up Headington Hill.

Finally, I'm sure you're dying to know what I ate in the 24 hours covering the trip, starting from the previous evening, so here's a list: around 9pm the day before, some of Jackie's birthday cake (thanks Jackie) to start my dinner en route back from London; later, haggis plus lots of tatties and veg (thanks Martin), around 10.45pm; cheese and biscuits to follow (thanks Martin); big bowl of porridge the next morning (thanks Martin); two slices of toast with jam (thanks Martin); one party-bag caramel crunch biscuit thing (thanks Jackie); two cheese and lettuce sandwiches on thick bread (thanks Martin); one toffee biscuit thing (thanks Jackie); one delicious chocolate and ginger flapjack (bought in Woborn village shop); one banana (ditto); another banana (ditto); just over half a pack of ready-salted crisps (thanks Alan); a chicken and mushroom pasty on arriving at Oxford station (thanks, West Cornwall); an apple when back home (thanks Martin); a big plate of spaghetti alla carbonara (thanks to my sublime culinary talents); two chocolate digestives and a small amount of ice cream (thanks, McVitie et al). That just about did it. I also drank 2x 500ml Lucozade Sport orange (others are available) and about 500ml water during the ride. If anyone wants to count up those calories, I'd actually be surprised if they totalled less than what I burned during the ride.

The ride from Cambridge (Newnham) to Oxford (city centre) took us about 8h40---from about 9.50am (estimated) to 6.30pm. There were a couple of extended breaks: one in Woburn, feeling disappointingly destroyed already at half-way, when it wasn't certain whether we'd make it all the way or bail onto the X5; the second near Kingswood where we got horribly rained on (hailed on, in fact). The weather was mostly fine otherwise, modulo a couple of brief showers, although there was quite a headwind at times. In case you're wondering, the route is in four chunks because my phone battery ran out before the end of the ride. I also forgot to start tracking my route until I was in Cambridge. Fortunately, a bit of Google Mapsing and the wonders of NASA's SRTM3 database have allowed GPS Visualizer to draw the full route including altitude data throughout. The alleged elevation gain over the route is 1300m, if this data is to be trusted. I've a feeling I saw higher elevation figures when I used just the GPS segment, but I don't suppose it matters. 1300m sounds a lot. The section after Woburn is the most punishing hills-wise, although the approach to Oxford via Brill and Woodperry is tough also. Overall: it was a great ride, and one I'd certainly do again---perhaps in the other direction!

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The little one: Henley to Oxford

A couple of weekends ago, after the boat races at Henley, I cycled back to Oxford. After a hair-raisingly fast-and-straight road out towards the Chilterns, the right-turn out towards the Assendons brings a nice undulating slice of Chilterns. After a while there's a gruellingly incessant climb, followed by a very fast descent. The route is following the B480 almost the whole way. It's nice and quiet to begin with, but gets busier (and wider) nearer to Oxford. The bit around Chalgrove airfield is particularly ho-hum and basically like a quiet A road. There is a nice reprise of quietness and narrowness around Stadhampton and Chiselhampton, before the final grind into Oxford.

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Stadhampton has a particularly lovely green, and Chiselhampton isn't bad either. However, Stadhampton also marks the place where I met a cavalcade of traffic coming off the M40 (presumably not post-races traffic as I had presumed at the time, unless they took a very odd route out of Henley). On getting back into Oxford, I took the opportunity to extend my knowledge of cross-town routes in the south and east to reach my fashionable lower west-side abode.

In case you wondered: the route is 44.5km or 27.8mi, and the elevation gain is 412.8m.

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