Friday, 6 November 2015

The Lion of Leighton (recce and guide)

I've been meaning to nut out a ride like this for some time, an on/off road ride. Doable on road bikes, but something that'll have you wondering if you're really meant to be on this road/track/path!
So here's what I came up with. 60 miles'ish  a loop starting from outside the Black Lion. We'll start in groups of five max because of shared path use, and set off some minutes apart.
Heading out of town we'll ride towards Ledburn, turning right, up Well Lane. A road often given a wide berth as it's gravely and broken. From here it'll be out past Wing, Stewkley and heading towards Winslow. Then just this side of Winslow we turn right onto Sustrans 51 for a few miles of strade Bianche, or just plain mud in winter. There's even a section of cobbles.
We leave that behind some miles later turning right, passing Newton Longville and into Stoke Hammond.. Here a sharp left takes you down a lane and over the Grand Union before disappearing into a gravel path. At a fork here we'll go left up a steep loose gravel bridleway (the Gravelberg) then it's right right left and down Bragenham Lane, watch out it's dreadful. Mossy, sandy steep and narrow so beware.....think car!
You get spat out near Rushmere Park so turn left and head toward Heath & Reach. Look out for a narrow lane squeezed between the quarry and tennis courts. We'll head up here, it's the opposite of the dreadful Bragenham descent you just came down, not that it's nice it's just up instead. The top gives you a view of the new wind turbine if you like that sort of thing. Turn right and make your way to Eggington. Passing the huge Redlands plant before turning left into Clipstone and onto the Leighton Road. Pass through Eggington now heading for the bypass. Here might be a place to stop, assuming the Five Bells Of Stanbridge is open?

The route gets trickier to navigate here. Look out for the left turn into what was once a though road before the bypass, that is now a dead end to cars, it's halfway between the pub and the bypass.  This leads you back onto Sustrans route 51. Ride over the bridge spanning the bypass and follow the cycle path that would take you all the way to Dunstable. The path is firm but gravel covered.  Soon you'll come to a timber bridge looking over Sewell, stop or slow down here.
This bit is important to get right. At the bridge to your right you'll see a cutting leading to a very broken chalky road, take this slightly uphill track. Pretty soon it becomes flat wide open cycle path, sort of has a Dutch or Belgian feel to it. Follow to it's end in Dunstable, you should end up on the Tring Road with the Dunstable Downs rearing up in front of you. We're not heading up there today, instead turn right and stretch your legs going out of town. Soon you'll see the London Flying Club on your left, near a speed camera in a dip.  As you leave the dip look right and take care taking the turning into Well End. I'll let you navigate you're own way over this section, but we are heading towards the church on the hill as you leave Eddlesborough and hit the A4146 Leighton Road.  Make sure you include the ford crossing as you approach Eddlesborough, but be careful as the middle has a wheel grabbing hole in it. My GPS route will see you through all of this anyway.

With the church in front of you you'll see a bridleway to your left. Take it and follow this longest section of off road all the way to Ivinghoe Aston at the foot of the Beacon climb. Cross the road and continue off road taking care to bare right avoiding the track to the farm house. The bridleway takes you to Ivinghoe, from here follow the road to Marsworth. Pass over the Grand Union and take the right turn into Watery Lane. A great little road liable to flooding in winter, follow it's twists and turns and turn left at the church yard. Cross the Grand Union for the third time in as few miles. Pass through Gubblecote and turn left at the cross roads in Long Marston. Again take care on this road as it's treacherous in winter, a lethal mix of leaves, rain, mud and red diesel! Passing through the village you come to a very obvious tight left hander, but straight ahead  is a gravel farm track, guess which one you take.

You are now on a series of sectors that form a small loop that will finally double back on itself. Be sure to say hi as you pass your club mate's riding in the opposite direction. But for now follow a fine gravel section that leads to a T junction of paths, turn right. This is probably going to be the muddiest section as it's simply a tractor route, ride or walk it. Soon the rutted path gives way to tarmac and an industrial estate in the middle of nowhere. Follow the road and once again cross the Grand Union, but this time turn left onto it's canal side path. Follow the water way to the next bridge where you'll have to dismount and get back onto the gravel track that'll finish this remote loop. Retrace the way heading back towards Long Marston. At the crossroads go straight ahead towards Mentmore. Follow the arrow straight road before turning left passing Mentmore Towers and climbing into Mentmore itself.
From Mentmore descend passing Train Robbers Bridge to the T junction in Ledburn. We're now on home ground, but there's more. Turning right at Ledburn we head towards Leighton, under the bridge and to another T junction. Turn right here going away from Leighton and almost immediately turn left onto a very narrow path leading to the canal side. Follow the path under the bypass and eventually you'll come out near to Tiddenfoot water park. Ride past Tiddenfoot and the leisure centre and turn right into Mentmore Gardens. This cul de sac leads to a cycle path that crosses the Grand Union once again and onto Grovebury Road. At it's end turn left towards the town, but after about two hundred metres turn left again and onto another cycle path. This cycle path is the last leg. It takes you through Parsons Close recreation Ground and back into town. The Black Lion is just around the corner.

Job done. All that's needed to be remembered is that a lot is shared use path so be courteous to others. Keep the groups small and watch your speed.
I rode this twice, once in sections with Fraser and another time in one hit. I rode it in good conditions and had no issues, in winter it will be tougher. I rode a cyclocross bike with a 46/36 and 25t cassette. My tyres were 28c Rubino road tyres. Fraser used a Pinarello standard road bike with 23c tyres. I think tyre condition will be more important than anything else. Mountain bikes will take the conditions in their stride, but sixty miles is a long way on a mountainbike and not really entering into the spirit of the ride.

Feel free to comment or ask questions here or on the club FB page.

First sector near Winslow

Fork heading up the 'Gravelberg'

Ford near Eddlesborough

The longest sector

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