ondon isn’t well known for its areas of outstanding natural beauty. With nine million people crammed into an area of 1,700 square kilometres, the city’s road bike riders have a choice between doing endless laps of Richmond Park while being shouted at by Range Rover drivers, or getting out beyond the Greater London boundary in search of solitude. The latter is exactly what Cyclist is attempting today, and our escape plan is taking us to the Chiltern Hills.
The Chilterns stretch diagonally southwest to northeast from Goring-on-thames in Oxfordshire to near Hitchin in Hertfordshire – a 74km long, 18km wide forward slash of wooded inclines and expansive countryside through the heart of the northeastern home counties. Builtup areas comprise only 5% of the land area so the quiet, meandering roads that link settlements are the perfect playground for a day’s riding.
As an escarpment, the Chilterns are clearly defined on the northwest side by a steep ‘scarp’ slope. With that in mind, my ride partners and I quickly and unanimously decide that we should start our ride on the more forgiving ‘dip’ side of the hills in the Hertfordshire village of Redbourn.
The village is held in high regard by local cyclists for its Bike Loft workshop and associated Hub cafe, a charming old hit-your-helmeton-the-ceiling-joists kind of place that serves rocket-fuel coffee and doorstep slices of toast with jam. The waitress who serves my breakfast tells me that around the time of the Second World War, Redbourn was well known for housing a large food factory, but it had to be closed when a young man fell into a vat of jam and died. In 2003 local schoolchildren successfully lobbied for a memorial bench in honour of ‘Sticky Joe’, which now sits pride of place further down the high street. I decide that perhaps honey would be best for my toast.
Suitably refuelled, I join up with my ride companions for the day – Mike, Joe and Rob – and the four of us roll out east, past Redbourn’s village green. In what I’d like to think was meticulous ride planning, but which was actually just blind luck, the indifferent weather of the last few weeks has given way to Britain’s annual three days of proper summer, so the sun is shining and the day is already hot. Without