Sunday, October 3, 2010

Autumn is coming - grey days, muddy byways and dramatic skies

Saturday October 2: The day started cool but very sunny, in fact the sunshine had a lot of warmth in it so I was looking forward to my weekly catch up of the Archers whilst cycling around the sunny Fens. With that in mind I planned a ride I used to take more often. The route follows NCN51 to Burwell and then up to Ely on NCN11 and then back round to Burwell via Prickwillow and then back to Cambridge on the NCN51/Lodes Way/NCN51. All in all it makes a good ride of 86Km/50+ miles, is very flat and on the open Fens is best on a still day. The maximum elevation reached is only 20m above sea level and the minimum is 2m below sea level (yes below). So you just have hope that the pumps don't fail and the area gets flooded when you are out and about or take a paddle.

Here is the BRT link, hopefully it is ok, I had a few problems with BRT this morning when trying to map the route. BRT has choices of map data (Google, OSM and OSM cycle map) and will auto-route for car, bike or foot. I normally use the OSM Cycle map and route on the OSM map data for a bike route. This morning it kept throwing up exceptions (as in error messages) when routing through the Bottisham, Lode and Swaffham Bulbeck triangle. In the end I managed to work around it by switching to routing using Google map data and turning off the auto-routing in areas where it failed. It did the trick - hopefully. Mind you the router always seems to have a challenge following the Lodes Way just after the new Reach Lode Bridge and I end up routing by hand all the time.

Lodes Way Loop around Soham Annotated.jpg

As this was a longish ride and the loop only starts after Reach Lode Bridge I did not take any pictures until after the bridge. Although the day had started fine by the time I got out it was very, very grey as you can see in this picture of Lodes Way passing through Burwell Fen (as the NT has signed it). As I had spent Friday driving around and not in Cambridge I had not realised that quite so much rain had fallen. Is there a new requirement for cycle paths in the Cambridgeshire area to have a dual purpose as a wheel dip and path. Mind you the puddles were not as deep as the "lakes" on the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB) cycle track and the path underneath was still flat and not unpredictably rutted..


When crossing the footbridge over Reach Lode there was time for a quick picture of the wildebeest on the plain highland cattle wondering why on earth the highlands had gotten so flat. According to the link the herd is now 25 strong however the Webpage also indicates that was after the birth of eight cattle in 2007 so the information might be a little dated.


There is now some information on the new Windpump being constructed at Wicken Fen. The new pump should help improve the ph balance of the water in the Fen and maintain the fens' delicate plant communities. The weather seemed to get greyer as I cycled through Wicken Fen and up on the country lanes that NCN11 follows through to Barway. NCN11 then heads away from the road after Barway on a farm track and then purpose built shared path along the bank of the River Great Ouse. A lot of farming takes place in the area and the route passes G's Hostel in Barway which is part of a farming Operation started by Guy Shropshire over 50 years ago and it now has a turnover of over £240m. (These guys certainly know how to use the Web - they have a variety of sites and provide information for pickers in quite a few languages.) The Fens is not just about high technology. The business can be quite labour-intensive as you can see here in the picture - the field is harvested by hand. Actually you can't see people, they are in the tented things passing over the crops like locusts!


For this ride I don't generally cycle into Ely, nice though it is, instead I cycle along Queen Adelaide Way which tracks the River Great Ouse around Ely. The river is quite wide by this point - which is a large footbridge across the river leading to a footpath next to a quarry. The footpath is, I think, part of the Ouse Valley Way.


As you can see, it is quite a large footbridge, I guess it needs to be for this width of river.


The Queen Adelaide Way then meets the Ely Road at the village of Queen Adelaide (which was previously known as Turbutsey). Nowadays the village lives in the shadow of Ely, but has three level crossings and a railway bridge as well as a bridge over the River Great Ouse. Fortunately the route to Prickwillow only passes one level crossing. From the level crossing you can see down the line to Ely cathedral.


The challenge is that the level crossing crosses at an angle to the road - not a problem in a motor vehicle with large wheels - but something you have to be careful of on a bicycle. When crossing the rails I always take a middle position in my lane, to ensure I don't get overtaken and then point slightly to the middle of the road to improve the crossing angle. In the photograph the River Bridge is in the distance and the two other level crossings are beyond.


Out to the east of Ely the Fens are open and, at this time of year bleak. Prickwillow has a Museum of Fenland Drainage featuring some of the diesel engines originally used to pump the water from Fens. There are also quite a few random huts dotted around the fields


The road from Queen Adelaide is quite busy although quite wide and so not too bad for cycling along. After that the route turns onto the Putney Hill Road - although you would be hard pushed to spot a hill in the area! It seems a most improbably name. As you can see it is quite wide for a country road (it is a "B" road) but I have never seen much traffic on it. The two vehicles in this picture represents the rush hour.


Another picture in my project to map the highly secret route of the National Byway in Cambridgeshire - so that is where it goes. There are 100 miles of Byway in Cambridgeshire - but no-one must know where they go.


On a grey day even the smallest patch of light in the sky has to be photographed.


I took an indirect route through Isleham on a byway - it was pretty muddy although I managed to cycle along it - there were one or two places when the bike had a mind of its own as it slipped around.

This is the site of the Isleham Priory church, a church which was converted to a barn and has "secret" tunnels to the church and a nearby disused shop - although they have been blocked up.

(Note the secret National Byway also passes through the village.)


I also went to visit the site of the Priory at the end of Little London Road. However because this short no-through-road had no speed limit I must have been going to fast too notice any remains.


The road from Isleham to Fordham crosses the route of the disused Cambridge to Mildenhall Railway line, where the old Fordham Station was. The station was probably closer to isleham than Fordham and the area has since been reclaimed by Isleham as the Isleham Nature Reserves. This is the linear nature reserve - unfortunately I had not realised that I had focused on the foreground rather than the background when I took the picture - still you get the idea - it is the line of the old railway track.


On the way back to Burwell and NCN51 into Cambridge I detoured off the B1102 onto a byway next to Ness Farm. This is what the byway looked like with Ness Farm in the background. I ended up cycling through most of the puddles although where this track reached the Broads Road on the outskirts of Burwell it was even more muddy and I did have to put my foot down once or twice


Despite my avowed hatred of Newnham Drove I often use it to get back onto Lodes Way (it really is unpleasantly bumpy in places). Once again I saw a few deer (on Hallard's Fen) - or rather they saw me first. They must be getting used to my smell! They now just watch as I cycle along rather than run off.


I also passed a runner on Newnham Drove. The gates onto Lodes Way are still locked - even I can squeeze through the bars though. (I lifted my bike over). This is the view taken with my camera propped up on the locked gates. Dark skies and a setting sun on the horizon.


"Over the bridge and far away" Except that Over is a village quite a few miles away - this route looks further than it is. This is the new Reach Lode Bridge and the Lodes Way stretching off into the distance.


Despite the greyness of the day it was a pleasant cycle ride as there was very little wind. The Lodes Way is starting to get used. I passed 16 cyclists, including two family groups, some dog walkers, several runners and on Swaffham Bulbeck Lode Bridge two horse riders. Actually I took my own advice and let them over the bridge before I went across it.

I did find I had one or two aches and pains from the previous day's enforced participation in traffic jams - must be getting old.


  1. Puddles

    The furthest and biggest in Photo 1 exists no more. It took about ten minutes with a spade, wielded by John H. of N.T. Wicken to dig a relief ditch (technically a "grid" he told me) on Sunday morning.

    He then had to get back to Wicken to appear on TV. So didn't get to digging grids for the other puddles. I feel a letter of complaint to the BBC coming on.


  2. Hi, I've mapped some of the route of the National Byway, near Ely, on OpenStreetMap: It follows an odd route through Ely itself and the signage isn't complete. Will have to go and explore beyond Sutton, and in the other direction into Suffolk, to work out where it goes (if the signs are up!)

  3. Excellent news on the puddle front - do you think he could go and do the same for the Cambridge Guided Busway - they don't seem to be quite so reactive to problems.

  4. So that is where the National Byway goes - there are some signs down near Wimpole as well. I can see how you might get from Mepal to Coveney and there is a rather nice road out of Sutton towards Chatteris. Will it go to Mildenhall via West Row after Isleham.
    Will your data get added to the OSM Cycle map?