The 2023 review of Cycle Orbital routes continues. This second survey of spin-offs features two major additions, and together with other changes brings the grand total mileage of the whole network to almost 900 miles of lanes, byways, towpaths, cycleways, old rail track, levees – and now a busway. For hillclimbers, the summit of Leith Hill is belatedly included, too.
7 Box Hill to Guildford. Using NCN routing exclusively, the only route that employs a cycle track flyover at Bramley, Spin-off 7 is an unusual ride beneath the scarp of the North Downs. The Downs are explored by Arc 7, but what of the Surrey Hills to the south, cycling Mecca, and crowned by Leith Hill Tower, the highest point in SE England? Solution: The Leith Hill Loop.
9 Dorney Lake to Crazies Hill. Apart from a deviation south via Ockwells to bypass Maidenhead this spin-off follows NCN4. The review had sad news: both the cycle cafe at Warren Row and the splendid pub The Horns at Crazies Hill have succumbed to post-covid recessionary times, although the pub has a pop-up van in attendance. On the other hand Freedom Pass holders have free passage on the Elizabeth Line at Twyford or Maidenhead.
10 Little Missenden to Phoenix Trail. Little to report here. The steady ascent (or descent) of Bryants Bottom is a highlight, but the preceding Hatches Lane down from Great Kingsmill is in a terrible state, all too common of minor lanes sought out by this network. It earns a warning symbol. The continuation of the spin-off, The Phoenix Trail to Thame, is 7 straight miles of rail track splendour: thank you, Dr Beeching, I guess.
11 Hemel Hempstead to Harpenden. This major revision complements the spin-off arcs of Essex (see below) and Kent (the Spin-off 5 mini-network). The route Hemel Hempstead to Leighton Buzzard via Ashridge had replaced the truncated Harpenden to Luton ride, retained as Arc 11b. These are now united by more rail trackbed riding, first on the Sewell Greenway, which engineers passage between the rivers Ouzel and Lee with embankment and cutting, then alongside the urban busway connecting Luton and Dunstable.
The research came off the back of a lost Panama hat. Its replacement led me into the centre of Luton, national – world – centre of hat-making until the 1930’s, and an encounter with the eastern end of the busway. My curiosity was piqued…the new 38-mile route features six miles of active travel and public transport combined – way to go!
12 St Albans to Stevenage. A favourite ride on Hertfordshire lanes, culminating in a final mile off-road from Langley to Stevenage on a bosky byway, then via an underpass to cross the otherwise impenetrable A1(M).
1b and 1-2-3 Dobb’s Weir to Rainham. The spin-offs create an Outer Essex Arc. Arc 1b to Moreton favours the Stort Navigation from Roydon to Harlow (another deviation from NCN routing), rejoining via a hair-raising bridge over the railway. At Moreton NCN1 continues east to Chelmsford, whereas the linking Spin-off 1-2-3 heads southeast to Shenfield on some of the most relaxed rural lanes in the network.
In conclusion, the spin-offs are in fair nick, and substantially augmented by the new spinoffs 8 and 11. Spokes and Arcs will get a briefer treatment after the summer.
© Martin Nelson. 2nd August 2023