Wednesday, October 20, 2010

First of the Winter Sun

Wednesday, 20th October: Where to start, as the Chinese curse apparently goes "may you live in interesting times", although whenever I have asked Chinese friends about this proverb they have not been aware of it. The Wikipedia link implies it may have been originated amongst the English (or Americans). The main topic in the news at the moment (in the UK) is "the cuts" or the result of the Government's Spending Review. I guess I take a simplistic view, at the end of the day you can only spend what you earn and whilst you can borrow money to say buy a house you still have to be able to pay back that loan or service it. Again taking a simplistic view, borrowing money on something that holds value (or creates value) can make sense, but borrowing money on something more frivolous only means that in the end what you buy costs you more and so makes your future standard of living worse. So I do believe that there have to be cuts in Government spending to reduce the size of the deficit, otherwise we are just making life difficult for future generations - my kids and their kids, which doesn't seem fair.

We must also strive for a healthy society in which people are treated fairly and as adults. If you treat someone as an adult they may behave like an adult, if you treat them as a child, they will behave like a child. I believe in Health and Education being basic entitlements. I also worry that too many bureaucratic structures get set up and become interested in self-preservation rather than focus on efficiently delivering value. I also don't believe that setting up a check-box economy where we confuse progress/success with hitting targets. Too often all that happens is the organisation being "checked" loses sight of what they should be doing and ends up focusing on hitting the targets, almost as a game. Schools are an interesting example, there is lots of checking, with tests, Ofsted visits, parent choice, fixed curricula. The result - cynical kids and cynical teachers heading for expensive degrees, funded by being encouraged into debt. Yet the real issue is that there is no real coupling between what UK needs in terms of Graduate skills and what the UK gets. This is not the fault of the students, or even the Universities - it is a Governmental responsibility.

This rant started because I read an interesting Blog last night - a report on a Cambridge County Council meeting by a chap called Richard Taylor. He selflessly devotes time to making our Local Government more open and accountable and it seems to me that he really has bitten of quite a challenge. I accept that his report will probably be coloured by his perceptions, but read about the way he was treated in terms of being allowed to use empty desks or the Parish Councillors who were unable to ask questions because they failed to "follow" protocol, it almost seems Kafkaesque. When it comes to bureaucracy versus democracy it seems that bureaucracy tends to win.

The item that really got me reading the Post was the first key point: the "switching of £1.2m from funding cycleways in Cambridge so it can be spent on main roads across the county" on the grounds of more lives saved per pound by focusing on main roads. This is where I feel a "Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest" moment coming on. It would be interesting know what evidence was used to justify this decision and what cycleway(s) is (are) now no longer going to go ahead. Cambridge a Cycling Town - huh. Was the evidence of longer life taken into account? Or how about statistics suggesting "air pollution kills up to 50,000 a year"? And that is just in the UK and would need a radical overhaul of the transport policy to fix. Or "Increasing Obesity pushes diabetes drug bill to £600m"- and what helps to reduce the problems - er yes exercise. How much exercise should children get you may ask - 90 minutes a day and according to this BBC News item only 1 in 10 children of school age achieve that limit. And I haven't even started on what the cost of traffic jams in Cambridge is, although a, now dated, BBC news item suggests that the cost of traffic jams to British Business is £20bn a year. Mind you I would imagine that has reduced as "Motoring costs drive car usage down".

It would not surprise me if the CGB cycle path suffers as a result of this decision!

I guess I am appalled at how much money is already spent on a car-based economy and how little is spent trying to switch modal share to cycling and despite the fact I have been caught out in traffic jams on the A14, I for one believe that scrapping the A14 Scheme was the right thing to do. Building roads attracts cars - do we really think that more cars in Cambridge is a good idea?

The way to save more lives on Cambridge roads is to reduce the number of cars that need to use those roads and to make sure that when money is spent there are clear and sensible goals in mind - we can no longer throw money at problems. Although an interesting note in the report from Richard Taylor shows that attempts at reducing Cambridge County Council spending on Public Relations from a budget of around ~£2m to ~£1m were headed of at the pass without debate. (One of the arguments against cutting the spend was that the proposal was not based upon evidence - hum what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.)

Perhaps this "accident waiting to happen" won't get fixed after all as it will only be cyclists and pedestrians who get hurt. Or perhaps the PR budget could get spent on teaching drivers how to tell the difference between the brake and accelerator - very reassuring for cyclists to know that such confusion exists.

In case you are wondering what the PR gets spent on - "Saddle Up for Half Term" - yes encouraging cyclists to use cycleways. The quote included suggests that "Cycling has a key role to play in reducing congestion and improving the environment". I wonder does the left hand know what the right hand is doing (or saying)?

What dangers are there for cyclists after all - well now you mention it, not only do cyclists get run into they also get kicked 'unconscious' in the street. But hey its the motorists we want to spend money on!

Phew before my blood pressure goes through the roof I'd better focus on cycling - yesterday's ride - well the plus points were it was lovely and sunny, the negative point - well it was cold. It was so cold that I wore my cycling boots instead of my sandals and I still found myself only just warm enough. Except for when I was cycling up the hills... This is the route, along to Fulbourn, down to the Roman Road and then to Babraham. I was thinking of exploring the route that the Sawston - Babraham Cycleway might take in order to get to Abington. I was going to take a farm track to get to it though. The track was opposite the Sawston Road, just down from Babraham and there was a gate blocking it. I could have gone back to the footpath but couldn't be bothered. It did mean cycling along the A505 for a short distance, but although it is a very fast road it is also a dual-carriageway with wide lanes. So whilst it is not my normal choice of route - there are a few country lanes I feel less safe on. I then found my way to Linton where I took a steep track up to the Linton Water Tower, but next time I will take an alternate bridleway route which goes the other way around Rivey Wood.

Then I cycled through Balsham and over to Weston Green, although I did not actually take the route shown on the map (sorry-just noticed), I turned right at West Wratting and then left down to Weston Green and then along a few byways, one called Brook Lane. I noticed another bridleway which cuts corner across the byway to Brook Lane than I must also try some time. After that it was the Icknield Way path (bridleway) and then through Dullingham to Swaffham Bulbeck and the NCN51 back to Cambridge. There are byways I could have taken back through to Wilbraham, but the Icknield Way bit to Balsham lane was very slippery, I did have to jump off my back at one point as the ruts were pretty deep and one of my pedals got caught on the edge. I am sure I must have cycled twice as far as the distance I actually travelled on that bit of the route.

So in Summary the ride was just over 60Km (just under 40 miles) and as I was not looking for muddy cycling a bit tedious in places. Here is the BRT link, checkout the Summary with the elevation chart - no prizes for guessing which bit was climbing out of Linton. Mind you don't expect it to be very hilly this is the Flatlands. There was around 280m of ascent/descent and the maximum elevation was 120m above sea level..

Cambridge Balsham Loop Ant.jpg

Despite it being cold the bright sunny weather had gotten a few cyclists out. When I reached the Roman Road I chap went past me, he carried on along the Roman Road though, whereas I turned off towards Babraham. As I mentioned earlier I was going to try out the proposed cycleway from Babraham to Abington, but was put off by a locked gate. The building of the cycleway between Sawston and Babraham is doing well though - the path has been built on the stretch down towards the outskirts of Babraham.

Despite cycling through some picturesque countryside I did not hang around too much to take pictures, I had forgotten to take a front light with me and did not want to hang around and get caught out in the dark. So the first picture was taken after climbing up out of Linton. It seems steeper than it is I think. A look at the map suggests that the gradient is only around 10%. A quick look at BRT suggests that at the steepest, the path climbs 28m in 0.24Kms, which is 11.7%, which does not seem much, but on a gravel path through woods wearing misted up sunglasses it seemed steeper. I did it without stopping and was wearing a hat otherwise I would have pushed my glasses up over my head. This is the view from the top the path is on the other side of the hedgerow.


A close-up of the line of the path. It was steep enough that I had to think about keeping the front wheel from rising up in the air as well as making sure the back wheel didn't start skidding - but in general it was not that difficult.


This is where the path emerges from the edge of Rivey Wood. Just as the hill seemed to get very steep it reaches the top, or perhaps reaches the light as you emerge from the tree cover.


A panorama view of Linton "down below". I liked the way the clouds seemed to be lining up in the sky.


I couldn't pass by the Water Tower without taking its picture. It is constructed from red brick with concrete dressings and was built in 1935/36 with an 87,500 gallon water tank. I did do a bit of fiddling with the picture in Photoshop elements to try and correct the perspective.


After the Water Tower the route then goes down hill again, perhaps the road would have been a better bet as it skirts the hill and so avoids climbing and then descending. The road then crosses the Roman Road before getting to Balsham. Looking at the map there is an unmarked road called Scarlett's Lane but it does not appear to be a right of way - shame.

My actual route took me through West Wratting rather than along Bull Lane (as shown on the annotated map), but I don't think there is much difference in the distance. You would miss Mines Farm though. It seems to me that there are quite a few instances of derelict barns, around and about the Flatlands, that to me look like farm sheds but are called farms. I guess they might have been farms some time ago but have stopped being viable. This one one seem to be suitable for doing up though.


After getting to Weston Green the route then goes down Three Horseshoes Lane and then to a Ford. There is a choice of routes, either a byway or a bridleway. I always take the byway, next time I must try out the bridleway, although I think I might wait for some drier weather though. After taking the footbridge alongside the path I found the byway quite tricky, it was rutted and wet and were the path wasn't rutted it had been chewed up by horses hooves. I made it without having to dab a foot down though, although as the track went up a slight rise the back wheel did a bit of turning without gripping the ground (slipping).

The byway is called brook Lane and crosses the River Stour, the last time I passed this way there was not a lot of water flowing, this time there was enough water that I took the footbridge, which is a bit hidden. The last bit of the detour involved a plank across a ditch, which meant having to carry the bike and hope that my cycling boots (with cleats) didn't slip on the wet plank.


The path was more gravelly after crossing the River, like this.


After a brief run along the road (Weston Colville Road) the route reverted to a bridleway. Although this bridleway started off as a farm road and was much easier then the previous byway near Weston Green. It passed another farm - not derelict barns this time, just very big barns, although no pictures, sorry. Just after passing the barns - the clouds in the blue sky caught my eye.

I then had a struggle as the path, whilst still a farm track was quite rutted, with puddles and no choice but to cycle along in a rut. The problem is that when you are cycling in a rut the pedal can catch the edge of the rut at the bottom of the pedal stroke. So in places you have to stop pedalling and keep the pedals mid-way, but you also need some forward momentum to get through the sticky mud and the puddles. In places I found myself have to bounce on the pedals, where you push forward and then backward on the pedals to avoid them going right round. It worked most of the time - I did get jolted off the bike when my pedal caught a rut edge though.


After that bit of "excitement" I was glad to be on the road and chose not to use the Westley Bottom route back to Cambridge. It would have been more direct, but involved more byways. So I took the long way back via Dullingham and Swaffham Bulbeck and then NCN51. They are fairly quiet roads though. I did stop before reaching Dullingham to take a picture of this line of trees surrounding Underwood Hall. They looked more autumnal in real life than they look in the picture. You can see the long shadows though. There is a listed buildings in the area, Underwood Barn, according to the listing it is late 17th Century, at least I think that is what L 17 means. The second walk on this Dullingham website goes past the Hall. The map showing the location of Dullinhgam on the website shows a Newmarket Cycle Way! News to me.


I think I am going to have to buy some new cycling gear, my cycling boots felt cramped so my toes got a bit cold by the end of the ride. I have gotten too used to wearing sandals. I have also found that some of my older cold weather cycling gear has lost its elasticity. Cuffs and waist elastic no longer seems to spring back. It is unpleasant to have a cold draft around your middle.

Having said that I saw around 10 cyclists making the most of the sun, despite the cold.

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