Checking out Cycle Orbital in ‘longshot’, with all 800 miles of it standing out so well against Ordnance Survey Light, a longstanding niggle was ever clearer: there is a long gap between Spin-off 10 and 11, and I knew there was fine Chiltern countryside there, especially around Ashridge Estate (NT). Furthermore, the existing Spin-off 11 is a stubby 4 miles of admittedly good cycleway – but it’s the mapped and signed NCN 6, easily accessible (as you can see it has been retained, as Spin-off 11b). There was work to be done, and on a benign late November day the ride turned out to be a corker.
After map study the destination of Spin-off 11 was clear; at Leighton Buzzard NCN 6 reaches the Grand Union, continuing to Milton Keynes, so the rider can continue north on the towpath, or take a train back to London. But at 20 miles that’s a long Spin-off, so as with Spin-off 12 from St Albans City the start point is a station beyond the Oyster Zone - Hemel Hempstead - though both Arc 11 outer and the termination of Spoke 10 canal are very soon encountered.
The mapped ride was indeed excellent in practice. The first miles minimise the Hemel suburbs by skirting above the New Town centre until cycle-permeable Bury Hill 1.4. Shortly after, at Gade Valley School, a presumably old trackway has been preserved through the modern suburb of Gadebridge, so it is only at the edge of town, on Berkhamsted Road, that traffic is finally encountered. At the charming green at Potton End, bridleways take over to cross Berkhamsted golf course. Take the LH option at Hillingdon Road 5 to the war memorial as it is better surfaced. There begins several fine miles of Ashridge Forest with both off-road and private road sections, bringing you to the car parking at the popular heart of the Ashridge Estate.
This mid section was well known to me from walks, particularly autumnal; the National Trust’s Ashridge Estate, and the two mile ridge-top Duncombe Terrace from the Bridgewater monument 8.9 is the definite highlight culminating at Ivinghoe Beacon 11.5, the prominent landmark hill that was and is the destination for the Ridgeway ancient path. Of course the section is very popular with walkers - care and consideration - but the trees and views magnificent whatever the season.
Thereafter it’s a considerable descent in stages and then a flat unclassified road via Slapton through the Vale of Aylesbury to Leighton Buzzard. Closed as I passed, the Leighton Buzzard Railway 18.2 is one of the last survivors of the hundreds of 2 foot (610mm) gauge light railways built in Britain for industrial use.
Leighton Buzzard centre 18.8 is a fine example of a market town; shortly after, the road to the station passes over the Grand Union Canal and NCN 6 19.2 northbound for Milton Keynes. On a reverse recce of this spin-off in April 2021*, I began the ride by exploring the delightful first miles of the Grand Union as it meanders beside the River Ouzel. It is clearly the beginning of a fine NCN6 ride to Milton Keynes.
*If your intention is to ride there and back to Leighton Buzzard, the reverse recce confirmed that the climb up the Chilterns at Ivinghoe Beacon, rearing up impressively above the Vale of Aylesbury, is well graded and in two sections, with a welcome breather on the B489 Tring Road.