Cyclist - - Italy -

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.

Sticky sit­u­a­tion

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

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