(Train assisted to St Albans)
I think this route is useful because there is not yet a decent train service between Sheffield and Stansted Airport, and the Stansted Express from London’s Liverpool St doesn’t take bikes (although there is a local service that does, and it is rumoured that now that the Stexpress calls at stations en route non-folding bikes have been seen on board – don’t try it if you are late for your plane though) Plus, it’s a nice way to see some of the more pleasant parts of the South East, and might get you in the mood for your cycling holiday.
Take the train to St Albans – this will involve a change of train. Turn right out of the exit and cross the bridge on Victoria St, then first left left on Ridgmont Rd then left on Grovesnor Rd through the office park. Cross London Rd (there is a signal controlled crossing to your right, and take to the cycle path adjacent to Orient Close. On the bottom on the left you will find the entrance to the Alban Way (if in doubt ask a local) This is a good quality railway path, part of the National Cycle Network, NCN61 (mudguards recommended). Continue eastwards for approximately 10 miles, following the signs to pass through Hatfield.
At the far side of Hatfield, having crossed the railway, look for on the right signs to Mill Green and Museum, and follow the cycle route which runs parallel to the A414, this will take you up to the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital (QE2)where there is a short stretch on quite busy roads. Past the hospital, and right at the next roundabout, you will come to the junction with the B195, where there is access to the scenic off-road route which will take you under the A414 and on to Cole Green and Hertford.
If you prefer tarmac turn right, over the roundabout with care then left on to the Old Carriage Road to Hertford. Head for Hertford town centre, and following the signs find the River Lea cyclepath (NCN) which starts near the McMullens brewery. Follow this through to Ware. At Ware, leave the river and take the B1004/A1250 through to Bishops Stortford, (don’t take the A120 bypass which is a long way round)
Continue on the A1250 to the airport approach road – take extreme care as you cross the M11. [Streetmap and Sustrans Mapping show a cycle route from the East side of the M11 to the airport but we haven’t tried this out. Following so-called highway “improvements” cyclists are now banned from the airport approach road. Another option is the B1256 to Takeley, and a minor road into the airport.
Alternatively you can leap on the local train at B. Stortford or Stansted Mountfitchet to the Airport.
Approx distance: 35 miles Approx pedalling time: 4 hours
(1) If you have time to spare St Albans, the Roman town of Verulanium, is an interesting place with Roman ruins, an Abbey and lots of interesting pubs (it’s the headquarters of CAMRA)
(2) The River Lea towpath continues, and is cycleable, all the way into East London (the setting for the introduction to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness ) On the way you pass the Lea Valley linear park , which is rich in bird life, and at Tottenham Hale you can switch to the London Cycle Network towards Dalston and the city.
At the weekend the section between Broxbourne (my home town) and Cheshunt can be very busy, however. NCN1 leaves the river at Nazeing and takes to higher ground, giving you splendid views over the Lea Valley before dropping you down at Waltham Abbey where you pass through the bird reserves of the Lea Valley Countr Park – all very pleasant. There is also a higher speed off-road cycle route running parallel on Meridian Way, between Waltham Cross and Tottenham. The River Lea is connected to the Hertford Union canal at Hackney which will take you to within half-a mile of St Pancras for your train back up north (or indeed to Paris, Brussels, Kent or Gatwick Airport and Brighton) but you will have to take to the roads around Islington (there is a signed route) because of the tunnel (Unless you can hitch a ride on a narrow boat).
The River Stort towpath, meanwhile, which has not been treated for cycling, will take you from the Lea at Rye Park to Bishops Stortford via Harlow and is a pleasant but longer and slower ride. You’ll have to carry your bike over stiles though.
(3) There is a rich network of lanes and byways in the countryside between Ware and Bishops Stortford. If you wish to explore these, however, take the appropriate Ordnance Survey map or your GPS, as Hertfordshire County Council have sensibly re-signed them to make it more difficult for drivers to use them as short cuts.