Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Bad and the Good

Saturday, 23rd October: Generally I try to keep my titles relevant - with some sort of clue as to the cycle ride I am going to describe. Of course if I haven't been on a ride then it has to say something else. This Post lies in the middle - it is about a ride but the title is nothing to do with the ride. I have been on my bike and will describe it - but it is a ride I have been on quite a few times. But I suppose the depressing fact is that there were three deaths in crashes in the area reported today (Saturday). One was a child in a car, another was a cyclist involved with a collision with a white transit van and the third was a motorcyclist killed near Stretham. All were "vulnerable" road users, the cyclist was around my age - am I just being over-sensitive or are the roads becoming more dangerous places to be. Or is it that life in general is getting safer and so the road deaths have become more visible.

I certainly feel more vulnerable on my bicycle nowadays than I used to. I hope it is not just "fear" and I still continuing to cycle on all sorts of roads, I am not letting it put me off. I am trying to ensure visibility though, through lights and brightly coloured clothing. In another accident reported earlier a young woman was hurled into the windscreen of a BMW last Tuesday on Queen's Road, Cambridge. (Actually I think of this road as running along The Backs.) There was also a report of Road rage where both a cyclist and motorist ended up injured on Link road Sawston. It would be interesting to know what information there is with regards to danger, and lack of courtesy on the roads. I am convinced that there is less courtesy on the roads, I also believe that more drivers feel hassled and annoyed. I think that part of the problem is that cars (and lorries) are much, much safer than they used to be and that many motorists "map" the increased perception of safety onto other road users. I also think that many motorists also switch from ignorance to annoyance and map their frustrations due to traffic on non-members of their tribe. That means non-car drivers in the case of car drivers - they don't like lorries either.

Which reminds me of a Website I came across - which catalogues the insults a female cyclist gets whilst riding her bike. I have had people shout at me as they whizz pass in their cars, I have had things thrown at me from cars and water (I hope), I have had cars pull out in front of me, swerve in front of me, stop just after over-taking me, speed past me with inches to spare and the list goes on. She has had it worse though and will quickly hit 101 at the rate she suffers. BUT - WHY should cyclists have to put up with such thoughtless and sometimes downright dangerous behaviour? Are we becoming a nation of prats - or are we already there. Just what exactly is the cause and effect.

I don't believe that the answer is bureaucracy though - apparently the Ministry of Justice provides two booklets, a flowchart and six different forms to ensure staff are safe when driving on official business. That tells me too many people have time on their hands to waste as I doubt that their efforts will be rewarded by much of a change in driving behaviour. In fact I do think that often such office bureaucracy is driven by a need to protect management rather than a concern about staff - which in my book is definitely not the right cause and effect. Mind you I am not suggesting that we should not focus on safety of staff driving on official business - but perhaps we also need to look at cutting down unnecessary trips. In fact I had a brainwave whilst cycling yesterday on a road parallel to the A14 on which the traffic was looking pretty static. I am not a great believer in Toll Roads - they favour the rich over the not so rich. having said that what I would suggest is that we should have Toll roads in which you pay a toll for each empty seat in your car - that might help to change driver behaviour and encourage less squandering of Earth's resources and increase the amount of sharing. The same principle could be applied to empty lorries - again to incentivise lorry firms and their customers to focus on great efficiencies though load sharing.

The Ministry of Justice advice does remind me of the Police cycle manual. This was aimed at providing guidance and advice to cycling Police Officers and came in for a lot of stick. Probably from those people who like to shout at cyclists as they drive by. I know I argued against too much bureaucracy, but an advice booklet is probably not a bad idea - just keep it as advice and not bureaucratic rules would be my "advice". I would also focus on some practical experience - however most older people probably haven't cycled down a set of concrete steps - but there is no reason why a police person shouldn't be able to do it with some training.

A bit of good news is that even more stolen bikes have been discovered and a man arrested using 'secret tactics'. In another piece of even better news, well for me anyway. When I was in Tescos on Saturday Jelly Babies were half-price, so I bought 4 bags. Readers of this Post will know that jelly babies are a staple ingredient on my long distance tours and the odd day tour. I have eaten Jelly Babies on my Land's End to John O' Groats ride, when cycling from Bangkok to Saigon and in India. Mind you in all cases I also ate the local food as well - cycling is a good excuse to tour a country at a culinary level as well as geographically. (Alright - a good excuse to pig-out!)

Enough moaning - Saturday was another bright day so I popped out up through to Horningsea via Low Fen Drove Way and then over to White Fen and the Upware way to Wicken Fen before heading back to Lodes Way via Burwell and the bumpy Newnham Drove. There are a few variations on this route - but this one is quite good for being off-road or on quiet roads and with only a small bit of byway that is prone to getting muddy.

This is Wadloes path which leads off NCN51 to fen Ditton, just after Ditton Meadows. It avoids the busy Ditton lane. as you can see it is quite narrow and reasonably popular and now has its own white lines down the middle of the path. I can't (easily) find any reference to this work being scheduled or taking place and at first I wondered why but on reflection it does provide a guide for cyclists at night as there are no street lights along it. I can also see it helping to guide cyclists to the left. So as long as it was cheap to do it is not a bad idea. I do wonder how decisions to do pieces of work like this are arrived at though. Have there been accidents or is there concern about accidents or maybe the route will get busier when the Horningsea to Fen Ditton cycleway gets finished. Having said that the NCN51 path just to the right, out of shot also passes along a very narrow and fairly overgrown path which I think is worse than this one, especially at the Ditton Lane end where it turns through 90 degrees on a blind bend.


After cycling along Low Fen Drove way I stopped just by the pylons, (for a wee actually) when out of thin air two MTBers cycled by. So I bluffed by pretending I'd stopped to take a picture. Given that I had my camera out I thought the least I could do is take a picture of what qualifies as mountain biking here in Cambridge.

Unfortunately we don't have hills really, let alone mountains so you can either pop your bike in the car and go to Thetford or pretend and cycle along the byways and bridleways. Since getting in the car rather defeats the object we just dream jealously about living in the Lake District, where the mountains are on your doorstep. (Except of course when you are knackered and can't face another climb.)


That got me thinking - did I have a picture of my son and I with our MTBs' in the Lakes - no - although here is a picture of our road bikes in the Lakes, on the back of the car in Far Sawrey. That's my Longstaff - the blue bike. The MTB'ing in the Lakes pre-dated my obsession re-awakened interest with taking pictures. This picture dates from 2005


Back to the present, some graffiti on the barn near Snouts Corner. (The recent OS map calls it Snout Corner, the 1930 and 1940 OS maps refer to it as Snouts Corner.)


A fairly common use of farm implements is as "gates", they make good cycle stands as well.


There were quite a few people enjoying the sun on Saturday afternoon and the old railway line had quite a few puddles from what looked like a recent shower of rain. In fact I seemed to do a lot of splashing along the path. The trees near the Anglesey Abbey Lode Mill were a bit more photogenic though - this time around you can clearly see the autumnal colours.


The Lode end of the path was not quite as wet - the sky was looking a bit grim though compared with the sun when I set off.


At this point it did rain, not too hard, but hard enough that I had very little memory of cycling through White Fen - I must have been too busy feeling sorry for myself. Well it was either the rain or some "exciting" bit in the Archers that I was listening to on my MP3 player. It stopped once I was past Upware and although I had taken some waterproof leggings with me - it never quite rained hard enough to make me put them on, until it was too late and I was too wet. Lycra does dry pretty quickly though. The clouds and the low sun nicely lit up this tree as I was cycling between Upware and Wicken.

I also passed a couple walking along the road - with a camera and tripod and a huge lens, he could have photographed craters on the moon with it I reckon.


Wicken Fen was not very busy, I guess the rain had put off the fairweather visitors. Mind you when my kids were younger they were quite happy to splash around Wicken Fen provided they were properly togged up.

The last time through here I mentioned the new Windpump work - it is still proceeding. This is on the right hand side as you approach from the village. It is on the right side of Wicken Lode, on the side you need to pay to visit (or be a member.)


This is on the NCN11 side. A big concrete pipe has been set into the ground. I am still not really quite sure where the Windpump will go - but according to the press release it will pump water from Monks Lode into Sedge Fen. (Sedge Fen is on the paying side.)


On the way out of Wicken Fen the light was interesting - a thin strip above the horizon with dark clouds above and a solitary cow grazing.


In fact I liked the picture so much I zoomed in on the tree and took another picture.


As I have mentioned before I have a love-hate relationship with Newnham Drove, a road between Burwell and Lodes Way, if such a thing is possible with a road. I like it because it is straight and uncompromisingly drives through into the fens, but in places it is just terribly bumpy - but hey maybe I protest too much. This is the rather bleak Newnham Drove.


The bit where Newnham drove meets Lodes way. The sign in Burwell doesn't let on that actually you have a locked gate to contend with. I lift my bike over and then squeeze through - why am I so grumpy this time you might ask. Well it was wet and as I squeezed through my bright yellow jacket and gloves ended up a bit grubbier than before I squeezed through.


I had not realised, but the Lodes Way path will will be a fenced corridor though Burwell Fen - which I think is a bit of a shame - but I guess makes it easier for keeping the animals. There can be issues riding horses when there are wild ponies about apparently. Despite the rain the Lodes Way path was clear of puddles - I wish they'd tell the CGB people their secret!


For once no pictures from Reach lode Bridge, but the last time along here I noticed that Split Drove had yellow markings implying some road patching was about to take place - well it has. Here is one of the patched bits or road. Don't worry the patching is reasonable but not extravagant. There were one or two patches that had yellow paint but no patches, so I am not sure if they will be back or whether their tarmac ran out.

Bad news for tired cyclist the sofa on the Headlake Drove crossroads has been removed - so you'll have to carry on to the picnic tables in White Fen. (I've said it a few times - but I am impressed with how quickly fly-tipping stuff gets removed around here.)


I mentioned some Bank work along Swaffham Bulbeck Lode - it looks as if a couple of rows of logs have been set into the bank and bits of the bank cleared away. I wonder if they are building a landing stage?


After Lode (the end of Lodes Way) there is a link route between Lode and Bottisham along the Lode Road to NCN51. Although I have no pictures this time I have commented how the shared path gets a "could try harder" mark. Well nearer the Bottisham end there are now painted cycle symbols on each side of the road and the Traffic Calming structure has now got a slip road for cyclists to carry on without needing to stop. The link predates the work. I am surprised but given the nearby school it would seem to be sensible given the shared path is not that wide even after its recent widening.

How sensible of this driver to pull off the road to use his mobile phone - er a pity he had to block the NCN51 though - especially since there was plenty of room not to have to block the path. The picture is a bit blurred because it was getting darker and I must have been so annoyed I shook a little when taking the picture.


Did I mention it rained again before I got back - but again only a shower and the cold wind dried my leggings quite well - just a pity it was so cold.

The good news is that I now have 500Km in hand for this point of the year in terms of meeting my 12,000Km cycling target - which is a good thing as I find it harder to cycle when it is wet, cold and windy. (I have also reached my 6th best total mileage for a year and I still have two months and a bit to go.)


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