Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cycling from Wilbraham to Burwell - mainly on tracks

My cycling has been a bit sporadic recently with having to catch up on things, which means I should also be trying to catch up on my Posts - this is Monday's Post - (19th July). The weather forecasters kept predicting rain - for the week - well as I sit here stuck indoors on Thursday the promised rain has finally arrived here in the Flatlands. I tell people that we have one of the lowest rainfalls in England (here in the Flatlands) but have not recently checked to see what that might mean. A look at Wikipedia suggests that the wetter parts of the UK - Welsh mountains, Pennines and the moors of South West England get as much as 4,577mm annually. In contrast Cambridgeshire, gets around 600mm per year, London gets 650mm per year. So the Flatlands are one of the driest parts of the UK although typically it rains 113 days of the year in East Anglia.

So it is a bit strange to look at the pictures of Monday's ride and cast my mind back to the dry and dusty conditions. I headed out through Fulbourn to Wilbraham and then along various byways through to Burwell and then back along Sustrans 51 to Reach and then then a little detour past Lord's Ground Farm and the past Lythel's Farm into the byway alongside Swaffham Bulbeck Lode. Then back through Lode/Bottisham onto Sustrans 51 back into Cambridge.

It was a glorious afternoon, warm and fairly sunny, but not so bad that I put sunscreen on. I did carry a bottle with me in case I started burning though. Once I reached Great Wilbraham I could relax and just bump along byways for most of the rest of the ride. This field not far out of Wilbraham had already been cut. I bet there are some farmers wishing they had done a bit more harvesting before the rain we have now.


I don't know whether the same farmer owns both fields, this was on the other side of the track to the last one - but you can see that it has been cut and is waiting for baling (I presume).


The track follows the A11/A14 dual carriageway quite closely and climbs from 10m above sea level to 50m - another epic East Anglian climb - well it is on a byway and the sandy trick is quite not at all tricky really. The path up was called Street Way on the 1930s OS map and I had expected to see it carry on, as it appears on the latest map to be directly in line with the byway further along (on the left side of the A14). I thought that it had probably been affected (extinguished) by the A11/A14 intersection. There does appear to be some sort of path on the 30s map but not connecting all the way along.

After "rejoining" the byway on the left hand side of the A14, more harvesting was in evidence. The faint dot on the skyline in the middle is a house on the Heath Road from Swaffham Prior. I guess that at one time it was a farm cottage associated with one of the local farms - Partridge Farm appears the closest, which lies behind the line of trees on the skyline towards the left.


Because the track is very close to the A14 it is noisy and requires a bit of care because there are brambles sticking out and although not heavily rutted the main ruts on each side are close to the hedge and as you can see in this picture there is a thin rut in the middle as well. It is the one in the middle that I cycle along. The trouble is when you are looking around you can wobble in the rut - it is even harder steering with one hand while trying to get a drink with the other.

The paths up until now had been really dry and dusty so I was a bit surprised to come across a bit that looked like the cycle path on the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB) near St Ives- soggy. There must have been some irrigation nearby and this was run-off. Although it was not very deep mud it was incredibly slippery and made cycling on thinnish tyres a bit of a challenge. You have to remember I find a 20m hill climb significant.


A little further along the muddy path there was a flutter of butterflies - there were more than this they just didn't hang around long enough to get them all in the picture. They seemed to be attracted to the damp mud - apparently although they do not eat in the conventional sense, they have a proboscis which acts a bit like a straw for drinking liquids. They also exhibit puddling behaviour in shallow water and wet areas on warm sunny days.


I took a few pictures in close-up as well - they didn't hang around long enough for me to get a good picture - or rather I did not have the patience to wait around.


The source of the water was probably this potato field, which showed signs of having being irrigated recently. It was on higher ground than the track.


I cycled along the track to the point where the Devil's Dyke crossed the path and the A14 and climbed up the steps onto the footbridge (across the A14). This is another field of potatoes the clump of trees is the same clump of trees as in the previous picture but from the other side and about a kilometre further down the track.


For some reason I seemed to stop taking pictures and just enjoyed cycling on a warm Summer's afternoon and carried on through Exning into Burwell and it was not until I was past Reach that I stopped to take a picture of a load of beetroot that had escaped - although as you can see there are some on the road that didn't make it.


For a change I cycled up Lord's Ground Drove where along with various fields of beetroot there are fields of turf - here it is being irrigated and a swathe has been cut. With the economic situation I would imagine that there are not a lot of new housing builds starting. It must be difficult planning "crops" to grow so far in advance of the time they will be available for sale. It shows the risks that farmers have to live with. There are other fields of turf that do not seem to be getting quite as much care as this one. Grass is fairly resilient and will bounce back with a bit of rain. The company growing and selling the turf is called Spearhead Turf and quite an operation growing all sorts of different sorts of turf for Gardens to Golf Greens.


There appears to be a way from Lord's Ground past Lythel's Farm onto the byway alongside Swaffham Bulbeck Lode. I am not totally sure whether it is a right of way - I cycled along the road and onto the track past an Environment Agency vehicle also using it to get from the track to the road. Actually the EA vehicle had stopped on the corner and the driver was on the phone. When I looked on the OS map the yellow colouring of the road stops just as it gets to the farm. Google in their typical thoroughness have Streetview pictures along the road just up to the Byway.

On the way back through White Fen to Lode I had a look at the field near Oily Hall Farm - owned by the NT (covered in this NT Newsletter) and used by Spinney Abbey Farm. A field at the corner has been fenced so that cattle may graze in the field, presumably without then falling into the drainage ditches. The footpath goes through the middle of the field - but a strip to the edge of the field has been left to allow walkers to avoid the cows.


Whilst checking out the status of the field I took a picture in the direction of the Polo Horse "farms" - I think that it is a "polo field" being irrigated - but that is only a supposition based on the direction, I did not check it out.


This is the footbridge at the corner of the field. A track leads down to White Fen (down by the pylons). I assume that this bridge was designed to prevent animals crossing although now with the extra fencing its constricted design is less necessary. The need to replace this bridge is one of the issues that make it tricky to turn this route into a rather pleasant bridleway for horses and cyclists!


A composite picture of the field - it takes in a 90 degree field of view and is made up of 3 (x7 as they were HDR pictures) pictures. It might just be that I grew up in an area where the farming was mixed - but it is good to see cattle grazing in fields.

Oily Hall Fm field.JPG

With the uncertain weather forecast I guess the farmers will be having to decide whether to bring in the harvest or hope that the weather after the rain will be even better. I think I would hedge my bets and bring in some now - just in case - but I am not a farmer.

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