Monday, March 29, 2010

A Wander around Wandlebury

Spring is definitely springing around here in the flatlands of East Anglia and on this week of non-cycling an opportunity to check out some of the places to walk in the area. My mum is staying for a week and has turned down the offer of cycling on my Tandem. I see my role as her personal trainer and try to ensure she gets a good walk each day to keep everything shipshape. I is also an excuse for me to get some exercise as I don't really want to just sneak off on my bike whilst she is staying. I think of it as cross-training for my cycling!

We went for a wander around Wandlebury Country Park managed by an organisation formerly known as Cambridge Preservation Society but now re-branded as Cambridge, Past, Present and Future. I hope that exercise did not unduly enrichen a bunch of Marketing consultants. One thing I have learnt though involvement in Company management is it can easily take 10 years for branding changes to actually work through to the "customers". It is easy to mistake words for deeds and also very easy to spend huge amounts advertising the name changes. I remember when Samsung moved from their 3 stars logo to the current blue "oval" every airport I visited had Samsung branding on the luggage trolleys (this included airports on three continents). I still think Norwich Union before Aviva. I could not find out how much it cost - but this article in the Times estimates the cost of writing to all its customers in the UK at £6million for postage along. It is certainly not the sort of thing to be done lightly. They also planned for the transition to occur over two years.

Back to as the website is known they also have other properties in the area including Barnwell Leper Chapel. I knew it was a chapel - it looks like one - I had not known that it was originally built as an Isolation Hospital for lepers.

It is rather nice to see the almost daily changes as Spring has started - some hedges are starting to acquire a green tinge as the leaf buds starts to open. There are also some trees that blossom before their leaves appear.


It seems to me that Horse Chestnut trees are the first to appear in leaf in the tree world. In my Primary School (of around 60 kids in a small village in Somerset) I seem to remember that we always had a jar with some Horse chestnut twigs in a vase with the sticky buds opening. In case you are wondering why the buds are sticky - which I did when I wrote this, here is a link to a possible reason. Also, here is a sticky bud opening.


Wandlebury Country Park is situated on the Gog Magog downs, which is accessible from the A1307 towards Haverhill. The challenge is that the car park is just after a blind hill on a dual-carriageway so one minute you are speeding, the next minute having to turn into a smallish gate. It costs £2 to park but is free to walk around. The hill is around 75m in height and is one of the higher hills around and is notable for Wandlebury Ring which was part of an Iron Age Fort. You can walk around the ditch that was formed which is up to 5m deep, trees now line both sides of the ditch. It is sheltered though and was quite warm when we walked around. On the Northern edge of the park there is a golf course (not my cup of tea) and you can walk onto the Cambridge Roman Road - where I do cycle from time to time. Viewed from the Google Maps in satellite view you can clearly see the circle. We walked to the edge next to the golf course - this is the view out to the North - you can see for miles.


Within the ring there is a walled area and apparently wandlebury House stood within - it stands no longer but the stable block is still there and seems to have some residential houses as well as the Cambridge Past, Present & Future offices. There are one or two trees that look as if they might have been part of the House's gardens. In this picture you can see the wall in the background.


This building is Tadlow Granary, it was originally part of a farm in Tadlow (surprisingly-no) and was dismantled and rebuilt and sited at Wandlebury


On the way back to the car park this Pussy willow seemed to glow in the Spring sunshine. Twigs of Pussy willow was something else that would have found its way into my Primary School classroom in Spring.


Wandlebury was a place I used to visit more often when my kids were much smaller - it was a great place to explore, exciting and safe. There were a few kids out on their bicycles as well. We really enjoyed our visit - yet another interesting place to walk around Cambridge and hills as well.

An amble around Anglesey Abbey

This is a week for walking rather than cycling, as my Mum is staying for the week and for some reason has turned down my offer of going out on the Tandem. We have also been very lucky with the weather. It is definitely a bit warmer at the moment. Although as I write this there are forecasts of snow in England!). This means that the daffodils have started flowering and there are even signs of buds opening on the hedges and some trees. After visiting Wicken Fen at the weekend and picking up a free visitor ticket it made going to Anglesey Abbey even more pleasant. (Last weekend the National Trust had a free weekend for non-members and gave members who visited a ticket to allow them to take a guest for free during the next couple of months.)

Anglesey Abbey is near the village of Lode (a place I often cycle through) 9Km/5miles from Cambridge, it is owned by the national Trust and has some wonderful gardens and grounds to visit of around 114acres (from the NT website, Wikipedia claims 98acres!) along with the former home of 1st and 2nd Lords Fairhaven which the 2nd Lord gave to the NT in 1966 on his death. There is still some private accommodation for current members of the family.

I think that the Gardens represent a flagship for the NTs management and evolution of the properties they own. Over the last 25 years I have lived in the Cambridge Area it has gone from being a passive display to what was once Anglesey Abbey to a mix of the old, in all its former glory, and what might have been for gardens such as these in current garden design. Mind you I am not an expert on garden design, however there are areas that seem more contemporary.

What am I wittering on about. Well a more recent development on the property has been the Winter Walk. I have not been the Anglesey Abbey for a few years - you tend to ignore the sights on your doorstep and for me this visit was an eye-opener. The Winter walk is really quite stunning - and unfortunately my photographs do not do justice to it. In fact I have only got one picture taken on the winter Walk as the rest were bad. Mind you it has given me food for thought on how I might improve my pictures and as a member of the NT my visits are free (after paying the annual membership!) so there is no reason not to go back and have another go. Anglesey Abbey is famous for its variety and planting of Snowdrops - but these were over when we visited. What I liked about the winter walk was the use of shrubs and trees with different coloured and textured bark to create some quite stunning banks of colour. Here is one showing the use of yellow and red coloured growth. Elsewhere they had a plantation of silver birch creating an ethereal sense, which would look really good with a but of mist in the air (in photographic terms that is).


We have Imperial Crowns growing in our garden (Fritillaria Imperialis) which usually flower in late spring (April/May) and look quite unusual after the daffodils. We have orange and yellow varieties. My mother has been trying to grow them in her garden for a while with limited success, ours appeared after we had a conifer hedge removed and just seem to thrive. What was surprising was to see one flowering in the gardens at Anglesey Abbey. Even the later flowering spring flowers seem to be early at the moment. We have not got any Imperial Crown flowers in the garden - the plants are all looking good though. Here is the one we saw in flower at Anglesey Abbey - on our way out we discovered they also had them for sale in their Garden Centre. We did not buy any of those - we did buy some other stuff though.


When visiting you have to get separate tickets to visit the house and I think they operated a timed system when it is busy. We wanted to walk around the gardens though to get some exercise as well as look around. mind you as the visit to the house was free we did pick up a House ticket as well. After the Winter Walk was passed by Lode Mill which is currently in need of repairs as they have a leak and have dammed the water from the mill so they can get in to fix it. There are some wonderful vistas which must have been planned and planted in the early days of the garden as the trees are now pretty substantial. Here is one such avenue, to rows of trees each of which has a carpet of spring flowers - or do they look more like rugs?


The garden has also got some interesting statues and pots around as well. This group looked as if they were part of a Doctor Who program (the one with the Angels - I think it was called Blink.)


A different view of the "blue rugs"


The house - it was a Priory and acquired in 1600 and converted into a house. The Priory dates from around 1100!


One of the many avenues - the gardens have some formal areas as well as less formal plantings. There a quite a few avenues that criss-cross and they often have a statue or large urn at each end. The trees looks as if they have been carefully shaped to maximise the effect in this picture. You can see half way along this one there is another avenue criss-crossing! It gets quite dark when the trees are in leaf.


We walked down to another area I had not visited before - Hoe Fen - an area of woodland with some paths through that has designed to encourage insects and other wildlife. Although the car park was pretty full once we walked away from the main axis - entrance/cafe/House/mill we hardly saw anyone. In fact there were no other visitors in the Hoe Fen. On a map I noticed an Inset Hotel and though it was a small building on the edge - it turned out to be a Unisex toilet with its own cess pit - you don't get mains plumbing in the woods! The "Hilton Hotel for Insects" was a large pile of sticks and mud - rather more in keeping with the surroundings.

After visiting Hoe Fen we went back for our tour of the house - they supplied paper overshoes for visitors with muddy shoes. I think we were the only ones who had to wear them - it seems that most of the house visitors did not visit the gardens first.


On the way back home the gloom lifted and there was some bright sunlight - and it started raining. We did see a really strong rainbow though - and we could see both ends - didn't see any crocks of gold though.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A walk around Bury St Edmunds

It has been a while since I last cycled from Cambridge to Bury St Edmunds, there has been a route signed out to Newmarket for a while. According to the Sustrans website the signing gap between Newmarket and Bury St Edmunds has now been completed. This week my mother has come to stay and so instead of cycling I am taking to various interesting places (by car) and then we walk around them. Yesterday we went to Bury St Edmunds only instead of taking the more obvious route along the A14 I drove along the Sustrans route, at least the bit between Newmarket and Bury St Edmunds. Yes I am sorry to my fellow cyclists - it is not what they are intended for - but it was the only way I could show my Mum one of the routes I cycle along - she has turned down my offer to take her on my Tandem.

The route follows some country lanes which are so quiet we hardly saw anything on them. We didn't see any cyclists of cars for much of the route - we did see one person walking - she looked very surprised to see us. I can certainly recommend the route if you are looking for some pleasant cycling through some slightly undulating countryside away from danger too many motorists. In places the road has quite a few potholes - perhaps that is what keeps the cars away!

One of the villages on the way through is Moulton, near the border of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire the Sustrans route takes you past an old 15th century "packhorse" bridge next to a Ford. Mind you in the times I have cycled through the village I have never ever seen water over the ford. There is a ford at the other end of the village, near the church that has water flowing that you can (and I do) cycle through though. The other thing of note - for a Flatland cyclist is that you have to cycle down a hill into Moulton and up a hill out of Moulton (on the Sustrans 51 route that is). A quick look at the Ordnance Survey getamap site shows that the climb is only around 50m with the hill at 90m - still you have to remember that the bridges seem to be climbs to me I have lived in the area for so long.

Don't expect too many photographs though, when I am on my own I can (and do) stop whenever I want - I get teased if I take too many pictures when I am with people - and being thin-skinned it puts me off! I must cycle the route through to Ipswich on a spring day and take a few picture of the route though, after Bury St Edmunds there are some lovely off-road sections.

One of the nice things about Bury St Edmunds is that it still looks like a market town and you can enjoy walking around the ruins of the Abbey without having to walk around the shops if you don't want to. I am not a great fan of window shopping and fortunately neither is my mother. The parking was not free - but still seemed cheaper than I am used to parking in Cambridge!

After we parked it was a short stroll to the remains of the Abbey which is now a park where you can walk around the ruins. In the park there is a scale model and a kind gentlemen pointed out the various things to see to my mum. The is also a cathedral on the bounds of the park it was built in 1914, extended in the 60s and a Cathedral tower added and completed in 2005. I have not walked around the park for quite a few years and had not realised that a tower had been added. I have cycled through the town but just not noticed the tower being built - how observant is that!

The cathedral lies behind the ruins in this picture - with the new tower - although it fits in very well with the existing architecture. The Abbey was sacked by the towns people in 14th century so it is surprising to see anything left.


The ruins have been shored up against further dilapidation and there are various boards around describing what the buildings were for and what they might have looked like. You can also take an audio tour - there is a "shop" in the grounds where the "tapes" are available. (I might well be in MP3 format by now.) The new cathedral tower has made it into this picture as well.


We did pop into the town to walk through the market, we were spoilt for choice on one bread stall - in the end we chose a loaf with olive oil and rosemary as the flavouring ingredients. This traffic sign required special permission when it was installed and according to Wikipedia is called the "Pillar of salt". I think that it looks a little like a lighthouse and is the sort of thing that the I-spy books my brother and I were given when we where driving around as young children. The books contained things to look out for and if you saw them you got points for - it stopped us continually asking "are we there yet". A refrain you become familiar with when your own children reach a certain age!


I should also mention that the brewers Greene King have a large brewery in the town and yesterday there was a pleasant smell of beer brewing. The outskirts of the town also have a British Sugar factories - notable for their huge silos. I once took a picture of them for a presentation I made in my old company when trying to reduce the problem of silo management.

A postscript - a fellow cyclist has put me to shame by doing something about the atrocious cycle parking facilities at Cambridge Railway Station. "Commuter calls for more bike spaces at station". She has gone around taking pictures of places where they might add some additional spaces - well done.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cycling news - but no cycling (and a walk around Ely)

"Parking those bikes like that - they must have been asking for it!. My quotes there - but a news item in the Cambridge News: "Bike crime soars in the city" reports that whilst crime has plummeted in the city (by 10%) cycle theft has "rocketed" by 10%. What this means in numbers is that in the period January last year to January this year 2,269 bikes were stolen. The report goes on to offer the sensible advice of a police spokesman - but it got me thinking. Whilst not intentional the emphasis on prevention almost seems to blame the victim. No I do lock my bike with a D-lock when I have to park it out on the mean streets of Cambridge and the advice to park in view of CCTV sounds reasonable. However the parking facilities must also influence the risk of theft and take some of the blame. There are two excellent areas in Cambridge where cycle parking is available within multi-storey car parks; Grand Arcade Cycle Park and Park Street Cycle Park. Both are lit and secure and I assume have CCTV around the place.

Contrast that with the Station cycle park - it strikes me that there are two types of theft - the opportunist thief who steals a single bike (at a time) to get home of perhaps to make a bit of money, and the career bike thief who will steal a bunch of bikes at a time and will probably use a van to take the bikes away. It would be interesting to know where the bikes in Cambridge are stolen from and whether they are stolen in "bunches". My single point of reference is that my bike was stolen from this cycle park a few years ago - they did not even leave the broken lock behind! However with the huge jumble of bikes, telling whether someone is stealing a bike or merely trying to extricate a bike from the jumble around it can be quite tricky.

There is also a trick where when you return at the end of the day to retrieve your bike someone else has accidentally locked their bike to the stand and to you bike. This stops you removing your bike, I assume they then come back later to steal the bike by breaking your lock. I do not know anyone this has happened to though. It might be a genuine mistake. I know that when I arrive at the station to catch a train timing can get a bit tight as I waste time looking for somewhere to park. (If you read my other posts on Station cycle parking - then no I have not yet written to complain!)


Talking about complaints there was also a piece in the Cambridge News in which a hotel chain had listed Ely as one of the top 10 undesirable places to visit.: "Mayor's anger as survey says no-one wants to visit Ely". I have to say I find it difficult to believe and the article does mention that the Ely Travelodge (Travelodge did the survey) never has offers as it is always fully booked and does not need to entice people to stay. So I do wonder exactly how they did the survey and how many people were asked - although not enough to go and find out!

Why am I telling you this - well my mother (visiting for the week) has turned down my kind offer of touring by Tandem so we are visiting places and walking around them instead. We visited Ely and found it a lovely place to stroll around. We parked down near the river (River Great Ouse) where the long-term parking is free - that in itself was a big surprise to me. I normally cycle to Ely when I visit, or occasionally, I will drive and park in the Railway Station car park when catching a train to Manchester. You have to pay then - but it is cheaper than Cambridge Railway Station car park. So immediately it feels more inviting because you don't get ripped off for parking. We then walked along the river where it was clean and tidy with cafes and restaurants to hand for the weary traveller.

I apologies but for some reason I do not take as many pictures when walking? So here are some I took earlier. This is looking back down the river towards Ely. The bridge carries the railway line. Ely also seems to be a centre for boat hire as well with Longboats and short boats.


We walked up the hill towards the Cathedral after crossing the railway line - up past Oliver Cromwell's house towards the town centre. We did not venture into the high street but passed many charming houses. It turns out that Ely is the third smallest city in England after Wells in Somerset (where I grew up) and the City of London. Wikipedia goes on to comment that the name is commonly believed to derive from "eel" and "-y", meaning Eel island. The low lying fens surrounding Ely were marshy before all the drainage work and a source of eels (and mosquitoes and malaria as well apparently.)


The cathedral has a rather nice stained glass museum to visit as well if you have the time. We then returned through a park alongside the Cathedral called - The Park - a wonderful bit of green space within Ely. In the Summer you often see people having their lunch in the sunshine (at lunchtime that is).


All in all we really enjoyed our stroll around Ely - interesting architecture, an interesting river, information boards around the walk we took and although we did not visit them this time lots of places to visit. The parking was free and there were clean Loos in the car park. I have to agree with the Mayor of Ely - I cannot understand the survey's conclusions at all.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Walking around Wicken Fen

There is going to be a little less cycling this week as my Mum has come to stay. I did suggest that we could go out on the Tandem, but she turned down my kind offer! I wonder why? When I went to pick her up the weather was cold and rainy and wet and to make matters worse in the drive up to her place I had two road closures due to road repairs that detoured me (an extra 30miles) and I got stuck for one and a half hours on the M6 because a multi-vehicle crash had blocked all but one lane of the motorway where the M6 and M6 Toll roads met. This meant 6 lanes of traffic being funnelled down to one lane. That is why I prefer cycling!

Sunday the weather had changed for the better. It was much warmer and sunny. We drove out to Wicken Fen to have a walk around. When we got there the car park was packed and we had to park in the over-flow car park. I was surprised, although Sunday is generally the busiest day I do not normally see quite so many cars. (An update: "Nature Fen up for Top Award" - it appears Wicken Fen has a chance for an award for Best Active Venue in the Rough Guide to Accessible Britain Awards.)

I am a member of the NT and was expecting to park for free, but when I checked the Pay and Display meter it turned out that the NT were running a bonus weekend when visits to their properties was free for all. As a member I also got a voucher so that I can take a guest the next time I visit a property (before end June I think - must check).

Normally I cycle around the Fen but this time we went inside to walk along the board walk. It was likely to be more sheltered and less muddy than the external paths, although they look to have dried up quite well. Anyway I have not been in for a while. I was wondering whether it would be rather busy - but it is a large place and despite the huge numbers of cars once we headed away from the visitor centre it was very peaceful and we only passed other people occasionally.

We had both put coats on but with the shelter from the wind and the sun beating down (yes really) it was pretty hot. The Fen is a reminder of what the countryside would look like without the network of Lodes and pumps that help to drain the Flatlands of the Fens. Mum used her walking stick to check the depth of the water - only a couple of inches so even if a toddler happened to toddle over the edge of the board walk it would not be a problem.

When I first used to visit Wicken Fen the boardwalk was made of wooden planning - it has now been replaced by plastic wood effect boards - which look realistic we had to stop an examine them to make sure they weren't wood. With the large amount of water I presume the wood used to rot too quickly - and it was probably not good for the wildlife to use loads of preservative on the wood either.

The boardwalk follows 4 edges of a large rectangle and is 3/4 of a mile in length - and ideal for pushchairs and wheel chairs since it is a flat stable surface but and excellent way to see how the Fens were. We took a detour so probably walked around a mile and a half or so in the end.

This is a typical scene - rushes, flooding and a few trees.


The route also takes you past a Windmill - or rather a Windpump which was originally used elsewhere to control water levels in the peat digging areas. This windpump is now serves a different purpose - instead of draining the land it is used to pump water onto this part of the Fen (Sedge Fen). Not that it needs more water at the moment.


I took this picture because it reminded me of rice paddies I have seen in Cambodia and Vietnam.


This picture makes the clouds look darker than they really were - nice reflections of the ditches though.


As we walked around we could see across Wicken Lode to the Sustrans 51 shared use cycle path through Wicken Fen. The fine weather had brought out quite a few cyclists, there were quite a few parked at the NT reserve. Here are two coming from the Burwell direction.


There is a bird watching tower - walked up to it but did not climb it - the stairs inside are quite steep.


At one point we sat down to admire the views - the Fen is a very peaceful place - we could not hear much traffic noise - the Fen seemed to go on for ever in some directions.


Walking back along the side of Wicken Lode. There are walks on either side of this Lode and although the rushes are cut back they leave a sprinkling along the edge.


This is my favourite picture of the ones I took this time around. I did not have to try very hard to avoid getting people in the shot.


The tree in the middle of these two pictures is the same one - the clouds look as if they are leaving behind trails as they travel across the sky.


We went out along the Upware Road to get to Wicken Fen - my Mum was surprised how litter free and clear the countryside is - let's keep it that way. I was surprised how bumpy the road is - or rather how undulating it is. I have not driven along the road for a long time, although I cycle along it several times a week. I realised that it is the undulating surface that keeps most cars from speeding. The cars quickly starts bouncing more and more if you go too fast. Now I do understand the principles of resonance - what good is a Physics degree if I didn't - however it would take some nerve to drive faster and faster beyond the resonance "speed" - but there are some cars that do it and then pass my cycling with inches to spare.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Parking and Punctures

When I repaired the puncture on my Marin I found a large piece of flint sticking out of the tyre, pulled it out and because of the age of the inner tube replaced it and thought that was it. Unfortunately the rear wheel has started deflating again - a a slow puncture. As things go I did not get around to fixing it until Friday morning when I also had to go to London.

Now I have fixed loads of punctures over the time I have been cycling. Twice, I have had three punctures in a day. Once when cycling on my Tandem with my son and the farmer had been cutting a thorny hedge and the trimmings were all over the cycle path. The second time was returning from cycling up to Kings Lynn and back. That time was made worse because I had to fix the last puncture in the driving rain.

I know that with a puncture there is a cause and effect, tyres rarely go down in an unexplained manner. I say rarely because occasionally I will pump up a tyre and not have any problems with it - and that has occurred around twice during my years cycling as well. In those exceptional cases I put the problem down to dirt in the valve - although I have not evidence either way.

So when I took the tube out this time I spent ages looking for a hole, I eventually put the re-inflated tube in a bucket of water, but could not see nay tell-tale trace of bubbles. As I said it was a slow puncture with the tyre deflating over several days. I took the tyre off and ran my fingers around the inside trying to feel for a problem I checked both tyre and tube by eye. I could not find a hole and time was running out to catch my train to London. It was a nice day and there was no way I was going to use the car to get to the railway station. Mind you in today's economic climate the normally over-flowing car-park has had spare spaces the times I have caught the train this year.

So against my better judgement I replaced the inner tube again with a new one. The last one was not new and so there could have been a problem with it that I had forgotten to fix. I pumped the tyre and set off. It was so warm I did not need a jacket or jumper. In fact the warmth over the last couple of days has brought out the daffodils - which I took pictures of before fixing the tyre. The late "Spring" seems to have compressed the various early flowerings - so we have snowdrops, yellow and purple crocuses and daffodils all out at the same time. Here are the purple crocuses, now out-numbering the yellow ones. Although I have not included pictures of them are are also loads of snowdrops still in the garden.


The daffodils - there was a bit of a breeze so my attempts at taking multiple exposures and creating an "HDR" picture were a bit blurry as the same flower heads appear as ghost images around the central image. So this is a conventional single exposure image taken just by the shadow of the hedge. It is surprising how quickly they come out once the temperature starts rising - it is probably more surprising that after all these years I have not twigged that daffodils do flower pretty quickly - after all I have seen it happen year after year.


Once last picture of the purple crocuses and I fixed the tyre as mentioned above and set off for the station. As I thought - there were at least 10 car spaces, but I could not find any spaces in two of the three cycle park areas. Fortunately the cycle park adjacent to Station Road had a space. This cycle park has a muddy gravel base and several rows of Sheffield stands. However given the lack of sufficient cycle parking at the station all of the parking areas have more bikes locked up than two per stand (which is what they were designed for). There are also remnants of bikes left behind and where bikes have been locked to the edge of a stand they quite often fall down. Why does this matter - well there was a free space next to a stand that was difficult to reach as there were blockages each side - phew a place to lock the bike and still time to spare to buy a ticket and catch my train.

I there are several factors in the problem. Really the stands are too close together for bikes to be locked up side by side. Especially when the bikes have baskets - the spacing is the issue not the basket. As the cycle theft is so bad many people use very old bikes that they don't care about to get to the station. At the slightest sign of trouble I would imagine they abandon the bike. If you live close to the station then using a rotten bike makes sense. However if you commute form a reasonable distance then it is not such an attractive option - you don't want to intentionally make it harder to cycle - after all aren't we supposed to be encouraging more cycling, not putting off all but the die-hards.


When I returned from London that evening it was dark - I was on the first off-peak service of the evening (7.15pm) which attracts a lot of customers. Unfortunately it had started raining - so trying to find my bike in an under-lit muddy car park whilst putting on a cycling jacket was not fun. I also had to stick on the lights and speedo and so by the time I was heading out of the station I had to wait for a stream of 20 or so cars to pull out. What added to my misery was they had all parked in the reserved spaces and were sitting in the dry I was sitting in the rain.

I set off - as always it is really pleasant to be cycling after being cooped up on the train. I normally take a different route home from the one I take in - there is less traffic around in the evening so I normally take a more direct route on the roads. The rain was not too bad, although I did have a car try force me to wait my side of the road was clear, his side had parked cars and he wanted me to wait whilst he carried on. What sort of car you may ask - yes a Taxi. I guess it is hard to make a living and so they feel the need to avoid any possible slow down on their journeys. The advantage of having bright front lights is that they cannot ignore me and so he allowed me my right of way.

After a few miles I realised that my rear tyre was not fully inflated - I should have known - if you can't find the cause of the puncture then it is probably still there! The saving grace was because I was worried about the tyre I had a pump with me and also an aerosol inflater that sprays gunk into the tyre as well as inflating it. The gunk then seals the hole. It is great as a get you there measure but a little annoying as the gunk seems to go all over the place. This time around I just pumped the tyre up and got home without any other problems. I really must sort out that puncture...

To end on a more serene note - another purple crocus.


As has happened before, I also resolved to write a letter of complaint about the cycle parking at the station. I have never actually gotten round to that either!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Warmest day of the year so far - I think. Reach Lode bridge officially started!

No cycling for a couple of days - things that needed to get done got in the way - and all the time the weather has been getting warmer with today at 15C - the warmest, I think, so far this year. With temperatures like that I just had to get out and ... mow the lawn. At this time if year I have to steer around the crocuses and daffodils, although normally there would be flowers on the daffs there are barely any showing at the moment. I don't really look forward to the first cut of the year - although not much grass comes off as in the Summer the lawn is springy and I have to do more steering which makes it hard work. I reckon it is around 2,000 steps - and takes between 2 and 3 hours as there are bits of lawn in four different places and things to move and avoid. It was good to get it done though and fast enough that I also had time for a quick ride.

I did notice an interesting story in the Cambridge News though - "City bus route branded hell". In this article it is about a bus being attacked along Fison Road which the Sustrans 51 route briefly runs along. It seems there have been a number of attacks and in this one a brick was thrown through one of the buses windows. I am surprised as I have travelled along that road many times, sometimes late in the evening and have not seen any problems or felt at all threatened.

Another story, that heralds the inevitable was on the BBC Website: "Petrol currently costs £1.15 a litre on average". Given that oil (used to make petrol) is a limited resource and many countries are using more each year as their economies grow then the price is bound to go up. It is simple Economics - the so-called Law of Supply and Demand. If nothing else does this will reduce the number of cars on the road, unless of course electric cars crack all of the issues they have. There will be some interesting consequences, will theft of petrol from cars increase, will people switch to cycle, bus and train travel, will house prices in remoter villages drop? Will house prices near railway stations increase?

It might also make recreational visits to the countryside a little more local again. Speaking of which we have the Wicken Fen Vision, something I believe makes sense and judging from the state of the poll on the Number 10 petition website seems to have more supporter than detractors. (861 for, 47 against 19/03/10 10:00am). As part of the vision new access routes are being created across the Fen. A number of bridges are required to cross the various Lodes (drainage ditches) to facilitate the route over existing paths. The route, once called the Wicken Fen Spine Route, made progress with the first bridge opening over Swaffham Bulbeck Lode (this link includes an overhead picture of the new bridge).

The second in either three or four bridges has now been started and was officially announced in the press.There is a short piece in the Cambridge News: "Work beings on Reach Lode crossing" which indicates that the route is now to be called the Lodes Way - not a bad name given it opens up several Lodes to visitors who might otherwise not have the opportunity. (Which is of course part of the issue in the petitions.) There is an image of how the bridge might look in this Wicken Fen press release. While looking for more information I also found this piece in the Newmarket Journal; "Work starts on National Trust Lode Bridge" a slightly longer piece which unfortunately only seems to solicit a negative opinion rather than also include a positive opinion. (If you are interested Wikipedia has an article on Wicken Fen.)

Why am I rabbiting on about it - well it started with a brief introduction to this photograph and mushroomed from there. So here it is the photograph shows the Reach Lode bank from the Cambridge side, an access track has been built and holes are being drilled, presumably for the foundations.


Adjacent to the same stop is a track from Reach to Upware - it looks dry enough to make for "easier" cycling, I must get out on my MTB again.


Yet another picture of a freshly tilled field - the farmers really are busy at the moment - with tractors on the roads as they drive between fields and it is quite common to see a couple of tractors working in the same field.


This harrow was in the field at the weekend and I am a little surprised to see it still there given the need to get the fields sorted. The last time I took the picture rain had caused some splodges on the lens - this time no splodges, but the sky was very bland and grey.


In the distance there were a couple of tractors busy - fen soil is very fine and of course the fields are very flat.


One of the Lodes to be crossed as part of Lodes Way - a new bridge is required, although it is possible to drag a cycle over here riding a horse would be a different matter.


London tomorrow - let's hope there is cycle parking at the station; stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cycling through some Cambridgeshire Country Villages

The weather is definitely picking up here in the flatlands, apparently we have warm air blowing in from the south - not a moment too soon as far as I am concerned. Although I enjoy cycling to and around Wicken Fen it is good to cover different ground sometimes. The great thing about the Wicken Fen route is that it is relatively traffic free all the way and feels pretty safe. There are o fast roads to cross or cycle along. I have been cycling all my life and have cycled in a variety of countries and types of road, but I do feel that cyclists are treated less courteously on the roads in the UK now. Some might say that cyclists have themselves to blame - red light jumping and cycling on pavements being the two main crimes. Well I don't do either and don't condone them either but still feel that it is imbalanced - cars might get a scratch, cyclists get killed. Why am I saying this well on what was a very pleasant loop around Cambridge there were a number of instances when I felt the road was unsafe.

The joinery started along Sustrans 51 out towards Swaffham Bulbeck before detouring over the Swaffham Heat Road towards Dullingham. The farmers are still busy preparing the fields for planting and the Heath Road was no exception.


I also saw my first "wild" daffodils on the approach to the bridge over the A14. There were daffodils coming out on both sides of the road - I have no idea why they seem to be early here it is not particularly sheltered or south facing.


For flowers growing by the side of a busy road (the A14 not the Heath Road) they seem in good shape, especially given the cold weather delays.


My route involved some minor climbing, the highest point on the route was only 100m though and then a short drop down into Dullingham, unfortunately there was a train due at the station, which in the best traditions of the railways, was around 0.5 miles/0.75Km from the village itself. This is the Cambridge to Ipswich Line (perhaps they call it the Ipswich to Cambridge line in Ipswich!). It is not a busy line there seems to be a train either way each hour. Although it is popular for Hills Road College students commuting into and out of Cambridge who live in the the surrounding villages apparently. I believe that they used to run a single "coach" but for the school rush hour they have a double "coach". This line has not been electrified and the level crossing is still operated by the signal man who pops out and opens/close the gates as appropriate. The stone pillars look to be originals.

Give the congestion problems getting into Cambridge it is surprising that it is not used more, but Cambridge station is capacity constrained because of its one-side design and I guess the Cambridge/London commuter traffic is more lucrative. It is only a single track line,apart from at stations, which also complicates matters.


Here is the track and signal box - it all looks rather quaint, the modernisation of the railways has passed it by. Let's hope it does not get squandered though. Whilst looking on the web for information about the railway line through to St Ives that has since been turned into the CGB I did find a website ("end of the line for Histon Station") with pictures of the old railway installation which is worth a look for rail enthusiasts. I don't quite consider myself an enthusiast - I have never seen any interest in writing down engine numbers- I do like riding on steam trains though and it amazes me how extensive the old railway network was and how we have squandered such a valuable resource - whether it was for continuing rail operations, guided busways or cycle routes. A great website to check out is "Where's the path". You can use it to compare a current OS map view alongside a 1940s (or 1930s) OS map view. There were railways all over the place, no all that is left are the odd cutting.

I can also remember as a young boy seeing steam trains still in commercial use. I had to check Wikipedia to see when the Steam trains stopped - 1968. The working conditions were pretty harsh for the railwaymen involved with them.


My route took me along some very quiet lanes through Balsham along to another very quaint village - HIldersham. It lies just off the very busy A1307 to Haverhill. The road has seen some nasty accidents along its stretches. The village itself is a bit like a time warp. There is even a ford to cross the river, alongside a more "modern" bridge for light motor traffic and of course pedestrians and cyclists. I have cycled though this ford before but not on this trip, despite the warmer winds blowing from the South I did not really want to run the risk if a slip on the slimy river bed. You can see that this ford is well constructed and looks well used.


A view of the River Granta upriver.


For the previous picture I crossed this "footbridge" to get a better vantage point - it wobbled a bit as I went over it - too much eating over Christmas!


I crossed the A1307 - not a pleasant road for cycling along, although it appeared to have a shared use pavement alongside the road. Still not pleasant because motor traffic is very noisy when you are not sitting in the cocooned environment or a car or lorry. Try it some time you'll be amazed how noisy cars are travelling at speed. When checking out the map later I noticed that my route took me alongside yet another dismantled railway - the Cambridge, Haverhill and Sudbury Branch line. As far as I can see nothing has been developed using this old line. I then headed briefly along the A1307 just after it crossed the A11 before turning off towards Sawston. Actually the bit I joined was where the dual-carriageway became a single carriageway again. It was light - I had a red jacket and yellow fluorescent hat on - but there were cars who only seemed to overtake me just after they passed me. I guess the bottom line was they did not expect to see cyclists on the road and so were not looking and reacted late. I was also passed by a lorry carrying bales of hay - it was travelling quite fast and shedding large amounts of dust and bits of hay - one got in my eye. Fortunately I was able to remove it as I waited (for ages) to turn right of the main road. You can see why I like to stick to smaller and quieter roads.

I joined the Sustrans 11 route up through Sawston but carried along the A1301 up to Trumpington. This road is quite wide and has cycle lanes painted on the road. I passed quite a few cyclists using the lanes including a family with a trailer making good progress. One interesting "feature" is that although the Highway Code asks motorists to leave plenty of room when overtaking cyclists the on-road cycle lanes somehow give permission to pass cyclists much more closely. I imagine that in general traffic is going more slowly, but it does encourage motorists to consider it acceptable to pass close by cyclists. Certainly when I am driving I would tend to pass a cyclist more closely when there were painted lanes than when not. I think it is an example of the mixed message the motorists receive in terms of how to treat cyclists on the road.

On the Shelford Road (as this part of the A1301) is called I stopped to take a picture of what I presume is the route of the CGB down to Trumpington on the route of the disused LM & SR (London, Midland and Scottish Railway) from Cambridge over to Oxford. It looks quite narrow and I believe it will be a single track in operation here - there is quite a drainage ditch alongside. I wonder where the cycle track (if there is one here) will go. There is clearly a lot of work still to take place but they have a chance of catching up with the St Ives part of the CGB if they keep at it. There is also a road connecting the Park and Ride site at Trumpington with the Addenbrooke's Hospital site as well crossing the Shelford road. I assume that it will provide direct route for all M11 commuters to get to Addenbrooke's (those that want to of course).


I then cycled along the Trumpington road into Cambridge. The first part is on road with dotted lines marking out the cycle lanes and then a shared use cycle path closer to Cambridge. As I was cycling down on the road a bus went past me and then dived into the kerb and stopped. It was a stagecoach bus as it happens. Why? Who knows; he didn't see me, or mis-estimated my speed, or was running late or just felt bloody-minded towards cyclists. None of those reasons give me a warm feeling about buses and bikes it is no wonder that many people cite the issue of danger when explaining why, although they would like to cycle they don't. The shared use path alongside the road here is pretty good (for the UK, not compared with Holland!). I then headed out to Coton along a shared route and stopped to take a picture of this house being re-thatched - actually there are quite few thatched cottages in these parts - the wet fens must have been a good source of materials?


I did stop at these lights by the way.