The first running of the Lion Of Leighton was due to be sometime in April, in a sort of homage to the Spring classics. But LBRCC members are always eager to crack on with things whatever they are. So instead of waiting until April, mob rule dictated we'd run it in January. Without time to organise this ride into an event I simply pasted up the route and gave a brief description of what to expect. Bare in mind I planned this to be ridden on tough dirty roads, farm tracks and bridleways. Fine'ish come April, but possibly unrideable in mid winter. Still with bravado born in the Black Lion January, 3rd was picked as the chosen day.
It didn't matter to me what the day would be like, as I could hardly not ride it. Sadly though the day was grim, it was cold, it was dark and it was grey with promised rain on it's way. Still about twenty riders rocked up, and a lone Barry who was there to lead a G3 ride. Unfortunately for Barry not a single G3'er turned up, nor were there any G2'ers or G1'ers, just Lion riders. So Barry was press ganged into doing a section of the Lion with us.
We left the Black Lion promptly at 8.30am and set off for the most rubbish roads I knew of. The first time I heard the words 'Oh here we go' behind me was when we turned into Well Lane. A narrow farm road with puddles hiding wheel grabbing pot holes, before becoming a broken up gravel strewn twisting short climb. At the end of the lane our large group was already strung out. So I decided to send some faster riders off ahead to form two groups on the road.
Then what's that noise? air leaking from my back tyre that's what. Super tough 28c's seemed no match for the first bit of rough stuff. So I sent another group off whilst Tom and Steve waited for me to swap tubes. Then it started to pour down.
We set off half expecting to find small groups fixing punctures along the way. The idea was to leapfrog along making sure any stricken riders were accompanied. By Winslow not far from the first sector we came across Malcolm fixing a flat. We were proper wet already and decided we'd stick together just for the cheer!
A few miles later we were turning onto the first sector of the day, or Sustrans 51. When I'd ridden this over the summer the way was firm, dry and dusty. Now it was filthy and you had to play pot hole roulette as deep rain water obscured any dangers. I went for speed rather than picking my way. Worked.
We cleared all three sectors of Sustrans 51 so it was rather ironic that Gareth punctured as soon as we hit smooth tarmac when turning for Newton Longville.
While Gareth was carrying out repairs a small group lead by myself went off ahead. A bit of a grim road section lay ahead for us, but there was the promise of another sector soon after. We rode into the headwind, the rain and spray to Stoke Hammond. Here was our first bridleway sector, a nice one over the Grand Union, past mill and farm and then into a turn that would take you up the 'Gravelberg'. Gentle rhythm gets you to the top without going backwards in the grit. At the top we met another group containing Kate, Wout, Bob and others. Toms group containing a back on the road Gareth caught up pretty soon afterwards.
We set off to go down Bragenham Lane, a bloody awful road, but strangely okay today as the heavy rain had washed away all the usual debris that covers most of it's entire length. All down safe we headed up an impromptu sector leading to Ashleys house where he had prepared coffee, bacon rolls and cake ( we all owe you one Ashley) we also raided Ashleys inner tube stock and took advantage of his track pump.
A path from Ashleys lead to a short damp dirty climb. Easy after a short break, and ahead was a longish, flatish road section passing through Eggington and the Five Bells. Sadly the MTB contingent fell behind along this section, the small wheels and gears no match for leggy road and cross bikes.
The MTB's fell back and the group became two with a few hanging back with the MTB'ers.
The next sector was another section of Sustrans 51, and it lay just ahead of the Five bells. I took the pace down hoping to see Kate, Wout and Ashley with the MTB'ers pop into view. But no chance. The wind had really whipped up and we were heading upwards onto the downs. Once into the open the rain is sideways and the wind is blowing with such force that my muddy bike soon becomes jetwashed clean.
We leave the base of the Downs heading towards the London Flying Club where we'd turn off for Totternhoe and Eddlesborough and face the Ford that I'd once fallen into.
Ford cleaned we faced one of the best and longest sectors, from the church on the hill down to Ivinghoe Aston and onto Pitstone. A real corker even with mother natures jet wash trying to knock you off. The first half of this long sector being the best with you riding hardpack. The second half of this sector is muddy, but so wet it's easy to cut through. You're in Pitstone when you get to the end, and there's a nice steady road section to follow. There's a store here that sells pies and pastie's, but we can't stop in these conditions so we press on for the Watery Lane turn off.
Watery Lane is a peach of a little country lane and an LBRCC favourite, and features on many of our G rides. The lane takes us to Gubblecote and onto Long Marston to take in the looping sector in Puttenham. The tarmac here turns hard left, but we head straight on and off the tarmac and onto pot holed gravel. Like all the other sectors this one is also hardpacked, though it's still pot hole roulette and I find speed here is your friend. We're going to loop around here. At a natural turn the track becomes....shall we say a little less travelled! Though we all clear it. Still looping left we hit tarmac and look out for the bridge over the Grand Union that'll mark the next left turn.
The path alongside the canal is the worst we've been on, and it calls for a lot of finesse to keep traction and stay upright. I can see by the mud on one of the riders that they were clearly all out of finesse! We can see the next bridge up ahead that marks the next left hander, but it takes and age for all of us to reach it in these deep muddy conditions. We all gather on the bridge sheltering out of the rain so we can start the homeward bound leg altogether. We cover the final part of this sector, riding back up the track that brought us to here. Now we're on the road heading for Mentmore and then Ledburn and the going for the moment is a little easier.
Everyone's a bit achy going up the hill in Mentmore, but all soon recover as we descend going past Train Robbers Bridge and on to our turn in Ledburn. We're close to Leighton Buzzard now, but we have a small final sector that diverts us away from home. We dog leg over the B488 and head off road passing under the bypass with the Grand Union once again by our side.
On tarmac once again we ride pass Tiddenfoot lake and turn onto one of Leightons cycle paths, we cross the Grand Union once again and continue to Grovebury Road a familiar route out of town on Sunday club rides. After only a few hundred yards we once again turn onto a cycle path, riding at first through the towns industry and then on through parkland. The parks cycle path takes us almost directly to the door of our finish at the Black lion.
Our group of six are the second group to arrive. The group that went off almost from the start are already here, five of them in their pants getting dry in front of the pubs burning log fire. They hadn't suffered and punctures, in fact no technicals. Though they did miss the bacon and coffee.
I think of the twenty, eleven completed the ride. We had two guests from NBRC though sadly one of them had a show stopping off.....rider and bike okay. They were the first two casualties of the day. A couple more had only planned to part ride the course so peeled off after midway. The final non finishers called it a day as they were still on the road when the weather became almost dangerous to carry on riding in.
Sadly because the weather was so bad hardly any images exist, it wasn't a day for standing around saying cheese unless you had a bacon sarnie in one hand and coffee in the other. Please send them on if you do have any.
I think the club will leave this route alone and possibly not ride it again until April as originally planned. Look forward to it.