Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cycling the mean streets of the inner-Fens

I often talk about my "standard" ride out into the Fens towards and around Wicken Fen - over the time I have been riding out here (in the Flatlands) it has changed and still changes; depending upon my mood, how much time I have, what the weather is like, if I am on my own or not. It was probably kick-started by the work of Sustrans and the National Trust in opening up the Sustrans 11 route through to Ely via Wicken Fen. To be honest I can't remember just when the route opened, but I have found this Press Release - "Burwell Linked to Wicken Fen by New cycle Route" which indicates the Route was officially opened on September 5th 2005. Although there is also a reference to the planning of the route in this Cambridge Cycling Campaign Newsletter 25 - August/September 1999. Clearly a lot of work goes into opening up these routes.

The route of my ride on Monday is available on BikeRouteToaster here it started with a brief off-road excursion around Honey Hill and Snouts Corner before heading up to Horningsea and then heading off-road again towards Lode and White Fen where I bumped into MikeC (not literally) so we chatted whilst heading towards the Reach Lode Bridge with a slight detour around Lord's Ground Drove. I then headed along Straight Drove, through Upware and to Wicken village. I often cycle through the village and then back again, I am not sure quite why, I think it rounded up the distance on one such ride. Sometimes I carry on to Soham, but not usually, in the wet weather the tracks between Wicken and Soham get very muddy though so be warned. Then I head back through Wicken Fen often detouring slightly to CockUp bridge (to take pictures) and then through to Burwell. Here I sometimes then take Sustrans 51 back to Cambridge, other times I ride back through White Fen and Lode, it adds another 4-5Km.

All in all the distance is around 64Km/40miles but very flat, it starts at 7m above sea level, with a maximum elevation of 19m and a minimum elevation of 0m. The only real challenge is if it is windy.

HSea and Wicken Fen Annotated2.jpg

Whilst Cambridge is probably one of the more crime-free places in the UK, apart from bicycle theft that is, we still get crime out here. Cars pollute the countryside not just by being driven but also when stolen cars get torched. Unfortunately some of the tracks and byways seem to be where such anti-social behaviour takes place. Whilst encountering burnt-out cars is not an every day occurrence I do come across a handful of wrecks each year. The local councils are very good at removing them - but that is an activity that costs all tax-payers/rates payers. I am not sure if the police also get involved. There was a burnt-out car on Low Fen Droveway just after the bridge over the A14. This is the point where the road surface changes from tarmac to potholes and gravel. Strangely enough the car was parked to one side, so as not to block the track? In the past earth banks have been used to block the road over the bridge, but they block all access.


It always amazes me just how much of the car gets burnt when it is set on fire - I assume petrol is used to accelerate the fire. Fortunately the field was not also set on fire. I am surprised since it looks pretty dry.


This pea field along the Drove seems to be getting drier and drier, I guess it will only be good for seed now?


The lamp posts to the right of the skyline are at the Quy roundabout over the A14. Sustrans 51 runs close by, but fortunately bypasses the roundabout. The field alongside is being combined.


The shared use path to Horningsea has still not been painted - perhaps there is an official opening in September they are waiting for. The village was apparently the centre of the Roman industry between the 2nd and 4th Centuries. The sign was designed by a schoolboy, Simon Hellowell in 1977 and illustrates the pottery connection.


After the brief bit of road through Horningsea it was back along a bridleway (the Harcamlow Way) - a bit more inner-countryside or rural reality.


A quick stop at Allicky Farm to take a picture of another common countryside sight - a field-side plough.


The worrying thing is that I have been taking pictures of wildflowers on my cycle rides and, in the main, identifying them - but it is not getting any easier. I still find myself scanning my book and several different websites before, hopefully finding a name. This flower looks fairly distinctive - but it still took a while to name - Common Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris). One interesting snippet because the of "closed" flower it requires a strong insect to pollinate it. Like snapdragons, the picked flower can be made to talk by squeezing the sides.


This picture was what helped me to clinch the identification - the yellow downward pointing spike.


Ready for harvest?


Whilst cycling out of Lode towards White Fen, Bottisham Lode looked pretty low - I presume that water is diverted to the more important ditches in the balancing act of keeping the Fens drained but with water for irrigation and navigation.


Approaching White Fen, I bumped into MikeC and we took a more scenic route to the Reach Lode Bridge it was easier to talk as we cycled. Car drivers seem to expect to be able to take up the quite a chunk of the width of the road even if there is just one person in the car - and they certainly expect to be able to chat with their passengers so why do they got so incensed when cyclists ride two abreast?

In fact Rule 66 of the Highway Code indicates you should: never ride more than two abreast, and in single file on narrow or busy roads and around bends - so it is permitted.

I then headed North - but stopped on the concrete bridge over Commissioner's Drain - I could see seven irrigation sprays around me - and it was drizzling. As my wife says if she wants it to rain then all she has do to is water the vegetables. There are three sprays in this picture alone.

Commissioners Drain.jpg

Another three sprays in this picture.


A view of Reach Lode Bridge peeping through the trees - this is also due to be opened in September - that magic month for opening things. Come to think about it - it is not unusual to delay openings and press releases and product launches because August is viewed as the holiday month - you get more attention in September.


Yet another irrigation spray alongside Reach Lode.


More Combining taking place - this was on the Upware Road. When MikeC and I cycled down Lord's Ground Drove we passed some huge pieces of farm machinery that had been "digging" beetroot.


Whilst checking the map to see if this track has a name I did wonder why I cycled along the Stretham Road at all, there is a byway near where the Upware Road joins the Stretham Road and joins Sustrans 11 between Ely and Wicken and would be far more pleasant. This track has no name on the map I am using (Streetmap 25k) and at this point is a byway. There is a view of Ely Cathedral at the bottom of the track. My advice is not to cycle along the left hand "rut"!


Otherwise you might find yourself giving blood. There are a few thin brambles growing out from the hedge and I was not able to avoid all of them. My blood looks rather too red in this picture - more like a red crayon - still it seems to work.


This is the same track, but looking towards the road, where it passes a dilapidated building that seems to owe its design to huts built in the war. (Nissen huts) The use of corrugated asbestos for the roof would no longer be approved though I think. It also looks as if some lazy sod couldn't be bothered taking his/her rubbish to the tip and left it down this track.


I have been along this track quite a few times but only noticed this box on the Public Byway sign for the first time. Why is there a box on the pole and what is the electrical hazard? I would not have thought that the box was placed here for a joke, perhaps the pole was transplanted and came with the box and no-one bothered to remove it. Or maybe the sign is to warn of the pylons on the other side of the track?


On my way back through Wicken I cycled along Back Lane, which runs parallel with the High Street but on the Wicken Fen side. The metallic green colour caught my eye. I understand that planning rules are more relaxed for farmers putting up agricultural buildings - although I have not idea whether this falls into that category.


I had actually stopped to take a picture of this building on the other side of Back Lane.


Rural dwellers have their share of utility problems. Mill Road in Cambridge has problems as the sewers are having to be sorted and the road is closed as a result. Although I guess I could cycle along it and walk past the repairs? However as I know there are problems I avoid it completely and am not sure how long ti will be closed or indeed if it is still closed. Along Factory Road between Wicken Fen and Burwell (part of the Sustrans 11 route) it looks like a Water main is leaking. This had been marked with blue pain on the road, on the nearby telegraph pole and with a stick and some leaves also painted blue. I would imagine that this might cause problems for Priory Farm if it is their supply - there could be quite a loss of pressure.


A brief stop and the Lode Crossroads, progress is being made on the new crossing. I have assumed that it will control both traffic flow and pedestrian cycle flow. Whilst I am not a huge fan of diving if you can cycle it would seem reasonable to make it easier for cars joining from the Lode and Bottisham sides of the crossroads to be able to join the "main" road more easily.


The field near the Quy Mill Hotel alongside Sustrans 51 - it is a field of oil-seed rape being harvested.


For some reason I had assumed that despite the greyness of the sky it was not going to rain - as it happened I got drizzled on three or four times - but I quickly dried when it stopped so as is often the case it did not worry me at all - although if I had known it might have put me of going for a ride.

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