For the first of our three hundred-mile rides, we decided to begin with Cambridge, to revisit routes that Rachael and I used to follow fairly often. We started early, rolling through the empty roads and out along the quiet banks of the River Cam, and then turned south to bring us to our first stop, at Magog Down. This is where we scattered Sam’s ashes. It is a beautiful, quiet, peaceful place. We paused to look down towards the Rosie, with Cambridge spread behind it.
Cambridge is most famous as a university town, and the Rosie is part of the university hospital. We were so lucky to have the expertise and the dedication of its wonderful staff, and to see the results of the research they carry out.
From there we struck out east and then south, through the low hills of South Cambridgeshire, as the day warmed up. Between Balsham and Linton we crossed the line of the Roman road which runs southeast past Magog Down, and after Linton climbed over the long plateau that, on the other side, takes you down to Saffron Walden. There we took our first break, feeling that thirty miles had gone by rather nicely.
The next quarter-turn of the route took us past Duxford airfield, where, to Uncle Hugh’s delight (his job is building planes) several of the old aircraft were flying – Hugh was less pleased when we had to turn away from Duxford and strike north. We joined a number of other cyclists toiling over Chapel Hill, probably the most prominent hill near Cambridge and clearly a draw for pedalling enthusiasts. Then it was a long, but much more gradual, climb up to the ridge of the Madingley Road, and a much shorter and sharper drop past Madingley Hall, before we stopped for lunch at about 60 miles.
Our third leg of the ride was almost entirely flat, much to the disappointment of Uncle Hugh and Uncle Chris. The rest of us were pleased, because we had a tailwind that blew us all the way across the pleasantly-named Grunty Fen and up to the outskirts of Ely, giving us a bit of rolling recovery.
From Ely we were onto the last stretch, along the Lode Way that runs cross-country, first beside the River Ouse, then past Wicken Fen. Rachael and I used to ride to Ely often, but when planning this Big Ride I had forgotten that we always used mountain bikes; the tracks felt a lot rougher on road tyres, and especially after 80 miles of pedalling.
As we drew closer to Cambridge we could see a forbidding line of dark clouds gathering between us and the city. The rain struck surprisingly hard, but luckily we passed through it quickly and only had a few more miles to go, barring a puncture or two.We rolled in, tired but triumphant, to the Plough at Fen Ditton, one of our favourite riverside pubs. The first hundred miles were done.
Rachael and I lived in Cambridge for several years, and we still go back often to see friends, and to visit the Down. We had many happy times there. Our happiest were the ones we spent with Sam. For us, Cambridge will always be his town.
Thanks so much to everyone who has supported us, and to those who have donated to Sam’s fund. We’ll be posting again soon about the two other Big Rides of the year.