Sunday, January 3, 2010

Cycling along the Route of the Cambridge Guided Busway on a Winter's afternoon

Yesterday, just around the time I was thinking of going out for a cycle ride it started snowing - which was interesting and would have influenced my choice of route. Unfortunately it then turned to rain, which I am afraid to say put me off the idea of going out for a spin. Instead I had a look at the Sustrans website - and noticed that they now showed the Cambridge Guided Busway as an alternate cycle route "up North" - well up to St Ives. It is shown as an alternate Route 51 - with most of it off-road.

Last year in April I went on one of the buses adapted to run on the Busway as part of the trials being run to introduce the good folk (and me) of Cambridge to the joys of the Busway. You can read about my experiences here - it was pretty good - although I personally would have preferred to see the railway line re-instated - not based on any data though. I believe that the idea was that it would be up and running late Summer 2009. Well Summer came and went and November another possible confident handover date - but no buses and I am not sure when it will be ready.

So what with seeing it on the Sustrans map as ready for cycling and having missed a day's cycling and it was Sunday I thought I would head out along it to see what is what. Being a Sunday we normally eat our main meal in the evening so I filled a water bottle and put some Lumpy Road in my pocket (chocolate, fudge and marshmallow mixed up - a Christmas present) and headed off. More or less in the direction with some minor detours first. It was such a lovely sunny day that there were quite a few cyclists about. Here is one on the Sustrans 51 route, near Quy. The only challenge was that there was quite a lot of frost and ice about so you had to concentrate.


It was a good job as here by the Pub formerly known as the Prince Albert some kind motorist had dumped the contents of his/her broken windscreen - just after the Give Way artwork so that a cyclist would be ready to stop - how considerate.


I thought I knew where I was going to pick up the Busway - I've been on it in a Bus - but no I went through the Science Park to find that some cycle paths were only open during the working week and not Sunday lunchtime. In the end I headed for CRC - Cambridge Regional College which is off the Kings Hedges Road - infamous for its creative cycle path which weaves on and off the pavement and would test the skills of a competent cyclist. This photograph demonstrates one of the challenges in places you can cycle on the pavement or the road in special red areas - this motorist has cut the choices to avoid last minute cycling decisions by parking smack bang in the middle of the cycle path. The car further along has parked in a real parking spot - the cycling path detours off onto the pavement just after the red car. In fact there were quite a few spaces available 50m up the road - but hey if you've got a car you probably aren't into indiscriminate walking are you!


The delay in the completion of the Busway has also delayed the making up of the cycle path alongside it. Although I am not sure how much of the path will be made up or to what standard. Here is the path just approaching Histon. At the moment the path is flattened chippings and already you can see it getting chewed up. For a sunny Sunday afternoon it is ok, but it is quite hard work for a regular commute. I used to live to the North of Cambridge in Willingham and sometimes used to cycle into Cherry Hinton - this route would have been ideal - except I would have stuck to decent roads with flatter less energy-sapping surfaces - you waste too much energy on rough surfaces.


The view back down to the A14 bridge leading off to Cambridge - not the flattest of Busways is it.


I stopped at one of the Bus Stops to get a sense of what they will be like. One nice thing about this part of the Busway is that it passes through some pleasant countryside away from roads and road traffic. It's a pity that the Buses are so damn noisy. At least they were when I had my taster.


A bus stop, given how open this area is I am surprised that they will not be offering more protection, I guess the plan is that buses will be so regular that you never have to wait too long. Something does not look quite finished there!


Looking "upstream" you can see that there are more bits and pieces to be finished - the traffic lights work though. There seem to be some anti-car traps being added or at least being worked on.


A good supply of bike stands - it'll be interesting to see what the take up is for people cycling here and then catching the bus into Cambridge. It only works if they have a short journey the other end, or perhaps keep another bike at the office end.


A slightly worrying aspect the cycle path that runs alongside the Busway has been flooded here - I had to detour around onto the Busway as this was iced over - not easy or safe to cycle on. I wonder how they will deal with this; better drainage, raise the path or leave it and claim that it such a rare event that it will hardly matter.


The nice thing about taking a new route is seeing new sights and old sights from new directions. An interesting windmill.


One aspect that appeals to me is that the Busway runs along a disused railway trackbed which runs through Fen Drayton Lakes a complex of lakes with a number of paths around and about. A pleasant place to pass through. Here is the sun setting over one of the lakes.


At this point I could see why people were walking along the track - the path had flooded, so I also took to the tracks. There was quite a bit of ice around so I stuck to the one on the far right of this picture. At one point I found myself cycling on a thin layer of ice and with one foot down when I "stopped" I actually carried on gliding along the track. Most of the time it was ok though and certainly easier than the flooded and frozen path alongside the Busway. It got much worse in places.

One positive was that I must have seen around 20-30 cyclists out - ranging from older couples out together to entire families with the little one using stabilisers. There were quite a few walkers and dog walkers as well. It is good to see people getting some fresh air. The flooding here worries me though - it is not a cheap thing to fix and since the Busway has apparently already suffered a cost overrun and the making good of the cycle path delayed so who knows what will happen.

The path is wide though which is good - I passed several groups of horse riders - I offered to swap - cycling on the soft gravel saps your energy.


I was going to take the other Sustrans 51 route back but it was getting dark and my progress had been slower than planned and it was very icy so I headed straight back down once I reached St Ives. The open countryside made it easier to get a few sunset shots as well.


Here is an object that when we lived in these parts we referred to as the Tripod - not to be confused with Triffids - but about a post-apocalyptic world with Tripods. You'll have to read it if you want more. Mind you I'd not seen it from this direction before.


A cyclist managing to avoid being caught by the Tripod - phew. The path had patches of water on it - which had frozen to ice - so still had to keep my wits about me. The gravelly surface helped though.


The Council has thoughtfully provided some information boards - which I appreciate if no-one else does. It mentions the Cambridge to St Ives railway and also has some information on the Chivers jam making operation which used to bring in fruit on this railway line. (Chivers were (are?) based at Histon.) Apparently they employed young ladies to pick fruit to avoid undesirable types from flooding in! One of the young ladies can be seen towards the bottom right.


Despite all of the ice I only had one bit of excitement, heading along a bit of Sustrans 51 in the dark, it was off-road and quite narrow - but used by dog-walkers and cyclists. As I cycled along I was scanning the ground for ice when a black Labrador started chasing me and making nasty growling noises - its "owner" called it but nothing. Now you might say that generally Labradors have a good temperament and I would agree - although my brother was attacked by one as a teenager and bitten on the arm. This dog chased me twice and I was not too keen on either stopping or speeding up - fortunately it gave up - perhaps it was not very fit if the owner couldn't be bothered to train it then they probably don't exercise it properly either.

A pleasant track for a jaunt - but not one I would really want to use for regular commuting - unlike the Bath to Bristol cycle path. I covered around 64Km/40 miles with my meandering and returned home with my speedometer showing 71,000Km exactly. (This speedo records the mileage for my Marin and Longstaff bikes).

One final note - Windows 7 seems to have been tamed - my problem was that whenever I had Windows Media Player running, which is most of the time it would hog half of the CPU. After quite a few late night experiments it turned out to be some problem with the way WMP12 searches the disk for music and videos and pictures. I ended up pointing it only at my MP3 and picture directories and it managed to search and "update" them whereas before it had tried to do the who disk and stumbled and re-started or some such. I also use the Windows Journal to record handwritten notes so actually I quite like Windows 7 and it has freed up several hundred megabytes of disk space which is pretty good too..


  1. I'm off to do this today (just as soon as The Archers finish).

    I look forward to the silence of no traffic and no buses.

  2. I listen to the Archers on my MP3 player when cycling.

    Be interesting to see whether the cycle way is now clear of the flooding

  3. Nope. The flooding's not as bad as in your pictures, but the area leading up to St Ives (between some lakes that had a lot of bird watchers and fishing people) was still flooded.

    This meant that not only were there bikers on the busway (about 60% of riders between Cambridge and St Ives seemed to be on the busway rather than the gravel), but also ramblers and people walking their dogs were using the concrete path.

    The car traps are now complete (thankfully you can bike around them without a problem), but I was impressed by the size of the concrete blocks that had been placed at every intersection with a road to prevent cars (maybe buses?*) from using the busway.

    There was absolutely no sign of any construction equipment.

    *from my reading of the news, the bus operators are pretty annoyed with the contractors at this point, so I wonder if the contractors were worried about unauthorised bus use for public relations purposes.

  4. The news is reporting that they might create a narrower, 3m raised cycle path in the areas of flooding.

    Sometimes the difference between cycling on the smooth concrete track and the gravel is irresistible.