Last Sunday's weather was nice, so Mike and I planned a short bike ride. Out to Girton and Oakington, along a road that's closed currently to motor traffic to Cottenham, then through Landbeach to Waterbeach and back along the river. Much of it we've done before, except the Oakington to Cottenham stretch, and it's only 20 miles, but it was a very pleasant ride. With a rather unexpected long break in the middle, as it turns out Cottenham were having some sort of fete, and we waited with the expectant crowds for the parade of floats. It was rather nice.
Yesterday being lovely weather again, and having woken early enough, we got ourselves on the 10:14 train to Brandon, and headed into Thetford Forest to cycle some woodland trails. We started with an 11 mile or so loop which combined parts of the Green (easy) and Blue (moderate) trails, which was pleasant but not terribly challenging - though the Blue trail managed one slightly tough bit of hill. It's much harder climbing when you're doing it on grass and earth and flint pebbles. We stopped for a bit of lunch, and to get the bike hire place to replace the two bolts holding my rear pannier carrier on - it was rattling like anything!
Then we decided to give the Red route a go. It's a one-way figure of 8 route, though you can decide to cut it short and just do one of the loops of the 8, and it's intended for "aspiring cyclists who want a bit of a challenge" which sounded interesting. It started out much like the blue route really, but then after some broad paths it headed off into a bit of dense pine wood, winding through the trees, and with deliberate banking on the corners to let you go faster round them, and some obstacles built of earth and logs. I skipped most of the obstacles, but the ones I did have a go at were brilliant fun, although I'm not sure it was wise with a bike I already knew had a slightly bent rear wheel (it's booked in for a service already, but I fear I may have made it worse - bad me. I shall walk to work the rest of this week until I get it fixed).
Anyway after a slightly more restful bit we were once again in dense pine wood, and here the deliberate dips in the path started to turn into puddles, and then we found ourselves on a downhill slope with about 10 big puddles in a row. I took it really slowly and didn't really enjoy this bit much, and found myself sliding a little and unexpectedly stopping leant on a tree partway down, which handily let the guy behind us who knew what he was doing go past. Mike was ahead of me and actually came off about 2 puddles from the end, getting somewhat muddy in the process but no damage done, and miraculously missed dunking the pannier. After this experience we decided we'd take the shorter version of the route, in case anything else equally hard turned up. We still had a few more puddles to deal with, and some fun sections of windy bumpy path, and we had to make a stop to get the mud unjammed from my front mudguard, but we made it back to the lodge just before 3 for a well deserved piece of cake each before heading back to Brandon along a now very familiar route for the train home.
We did 26.5 miles in all, about 18 of which were off-road. And although it wasn't much further than the previous week's ride it was *much* harder work. And despite my fears and the fact I usually hate surfaces which make my rear wheel slide about I had a really really good time. I think if we go back we might want to make sure it isn't in a week when it's recently rained for 18 hours solid though. And it'll be a while before I'm confident enough to try the black route! More info on these trails at: forestry.gov.uk.