Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The gentle art of losing your way on a bike

Tuesday,12th October: We've had some rather nice weather over the weekend but on Monday despite it being nice, cycling was not on my agenda, things had to get done. So I started work early on Tuesday morning hoping to be able to get out later in the day. I sat at my desktop computer looking glumly out of the window - it was grey, misty and cold. However throughout the morning the greyness seemed to be turning to blue skies and sun. Although it was not as warm as previous days, it did not seem too bad. The temperature outside was 18C according to my "Weather Station". A rather grand name for a cheap, but effective way of monitoring the outdoor temperature/pressure to assist me in decisions about how much cycling gear to wear and whether to carry waterproofs or warmer layers of clothing as backup. (My Weather forecaster was not one of these - they seem to change them all the time and mine is now out of date, but the key reading is the temperature.)

By lunchtime my getting up early gamble had paid off and it looked too inviting not to catch up on a few kilometres. Although we have had some rain recently and taking byways becomes a bit of a sticky-muddy-risk on my hybrid I still decided to check out the side-by-side byways near Wimpole Hall that MikeC had mentioned to me as a good place to explore on a bicycle. To get there I headed out along NCN 11 past Addenbrookes and then across from Little Shelford. I checked out a byway near Hauxton before a bridleway to Haslingfield and then over Chapel Mountain Hill to Barrington and then back on a byway before crossing the A603 to Little Eversden. Then there was a bit of exploring around the Wimpole area (aka getting lost) before heading back to Cambridge on the B1046.

It is noticeable how cool it gets in the evening and how the sun starts setting quite early so although I wore sandals, and shorts, fingerless gloves and a jacket I also took with me some waterproof socks and long-fingered gloves, leggings and a windproof/shower proof jacket just in case. I also took my USE Joystick light. I was not planning on being out on the byways when it got dark, but the light is very good at night. It also has a bright flash mode, ideal for twilight when I think bike lights can get lost amongst the car headlights.

The route is shown below, I have shown a ridable track on BikeRouterToaster - here. The map is shown below and in green is the actual track I took, I explain why later. The route shown is 55Km/35miles although my route (with the green additions) was around 10Km further and involves footpaths - I know shameful. There are three peaks, Chapel Hill, Cracknow Hill and the final one on Mare Way, near Sharp Hill by a reservoir. It did not seem it at the time, but the final hill was the highest at 77m, the route runs right past the trig point. (The previous two "peaks" are shown on the OS map as 66m and 69m above sea level. (BRT shows the peaks as slightly lower but who's counting.)

Cambridge nr Wimpole Loop Annotated.jpg

The weather was glorious when I set off, clear blue skies and although there was a slight tinge of cold in the air the sunshine was warm and when you are cycling a cool breeze is actually very pleasant. The NCN11 route out of Cambridge is very pleasant - the shared path is flat, reasonably wide and away from traffic and it is both a commuting route as well as a "touring" route heading off down to Saffron Walden along some picturesque country lanes.

I took a slight detour out of Little Shelford along the Shelford Road past an Obelisk on St Margaret's Mount in memory of Gregory Wale, 1668-1739. I then headed towards Hauxton on the London Road before turning off along a byway (called The Lane) just after a bridge over the railway line. It was a green road, with one or two soggy areas where wood chippings had been used to keep the track from getting too churned up. In this picture there is a soggy area just up the track. Where the byway reaches the village it becomes a road also called The Lane. The route then followed a bridleway I have taken a few times before, an idyllic path between Hauxton and Haslingfield, emerging on Cantelupe Road (which leads along a road and bridleways to Grantchester). I headed south-west out of the village, up Chapel Hill.


This is the Flatlands and there aren't too many hills around, this is one of the more notable ones, and can be used for training for bigger things. In the general scheme of things it is easier than it looks (for a Flatlander) although I only went up one side and down the other. Before descending there was time to take a picture of the view looking south. The road into Barrington is to the right in the picture. The picture is made from 3 (x7) pictures stitched together. Then it is downhill all the way to Barrington, a very picturesque village with the largest village "green" I have seen. This is the only hill descent on roads of the ride and I reached 56Km/hr (35mph). Although it is not that fast it seemed it not having been used to much descending recently. (The last serious descending was 2000m in India last year - I used a set of brake-blocks in one day.)

Chapel Hill towards Barrington.jpg

Barrington is a trek out of Cambridge to take customers for a meal, however a few years ago I did come here as I was getting fed up with the same restaurants in Cambridge and wanted to show our foreign visitors some nice Cambridgeshire countryside. This is the place we brought them - the Royal Oak, Barrington. It was a good place and everyone enjoyed the ambiance and the food.


The village seems to be spread out along this road - with all the houses set very well back from the road, so well back that there is room for a football pitch on the left hand side.


I took the Orwell turn out of the village, before coming to a right-hand bend with a byway leading on (Whole Way) and up, past Cracknow Hill. A bit of concentration is needed to be in the right lane rut. The byway is used by farmers getting to their fields, I stuck to the left-hand side of the track. It is a pleasant ride though before emerging into the open on the hill at the top. The Whole Way is apparently a corruption of "holloway" and is the only surviving example in south-west Cambridgeshire of a group of tracks of Roman (and perhaps earlier) origin. (If you follow the link search for "Whole Way" the article is near the bottom or click on the contents link: "Cement quarry threat to ancient trackway".


This is the view you get from the top looking towards the North.. The Whole Way can be seen heading downward before kinking to the right.


To the right of the vista evidence of a managed wood, are those clouds starting to grow in the sky?


Down near the bottom where the track meets the road a place to buy caravans. What did surprise me was the large number of trees in the area.


One last picture taken from the bottom of the track looking back up at the high point.


After the Whole Way the route briefly rejoined the road, crossing the A603 (also a Roman Road, or at least the route of what was once a Roman Road) into Little Eversden part of the Eversdens. According to the website, 210 people live in Great Eversden and 580 in Little Eversden - interesting - not intuitive! I took the first left turn (on a track) opposite the High Street turn. If you look at the Streetview link the picture shows it as quite steep - I don't recall thinking that it was very steep though. It does lead to the high spot of the ride though. This picture looks back along the track towards Little Eversden, according to the OSM cycle map it is called Mare Way.


On the top there are some glorious views across the countryside (as long as you aren't expecting epic mountains).


This view is looking back towards Cambridge with one of the satellite dishes, part of the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory and just along the horizon the University Library tower, next to that is St Mary's University Church, where for a small fee you can climb up the tower. King's College is the next one along!


When MikeC first mentioned this route he also mentioned the oddity - there are in fact two byways side by side as you can see here. The OSM Cyclemap only shows it as one, but the OS maps correctly show two tracks and as you can see, on the ground there are two tracks. I started on the left-hand bridleway but found the right-hand one a little easier. This is nearing the high spot of the route.


Mare Way joins Wimpole Road or rather Wimpole Way forms a T-junction with Mare Way. Wimpole Way is a bridleway leading from Great Eversden. A the "T"is the site of a reservoir, although not a reservoir to get your hopes up. This is the reservoir, not some glorious lake but two concrete constructions. Just to the left out of shot is the trig point at 77m above sea level.


Mare Way carried alongside a few fields and despite threatening to bog down never got too slippery and I was able to cycle it without dabbing a foot down. The back wheel did slip around a bit and I had to keep up momentum in the soggy bits. There was a nice view of Eversden Wood as I approached the road (old Wimpole Road). Now if you look at the route I intended to follow it was very easy, carry along the road for a short distance and then head right on the byway just past New Farm. It was so easy that I did not bother checking on my map. At this point I have to come clean and admit I am cack-handed. Most of the time it is not an issue (except for scissors) but just occasionally left and right become arbitrary concepts and I thought I turned right, but turned left and soon came to a track in the woods - which I cycled along. Here on Where's The Path (assuming it has not served too many map tiles for the day) is the scene of my error.

After that I interpreted what I saw in terms of where I thought I was on the map and it was a very pleasant cycle along what I believe is called The Belts that heads East and then South. The track was varied but in the main a woodland path, although there was a bit with some gravel as shown in this picture.


This was what most of it looked like - the leaves are just starting to sprinkle the path.


I passed a charcoal burner - although not actually producing charcoal when I passed by.


However when I reached the end of the woods and a stile into a field of cows and Wimpole hall the other side of the field I began to wonder. I compared my paper map with my GPS and knew immediately I had gone wrong. You might wonder why I did not make better use of my GPS, well for this type of exploration I tend to just use it to record the route and my routes are prone to change if I see interesting paths to explore en route. It also takes time to map and load a route onto the device. If I am travelling further afield I do map routes onto it. It was great when I cycled from Hull to Cambridge via Boston over two days. I mapped a route including off-road bits of the NCN route and I did not get lost at all, and it took me straight to my hotel in Boston without any hassle whatsoever.


Once I had twigged my mistake it was obvious what I had done, what an idiot. Still, looking on the bright side I certainly got the opportunity to cycle through some wonderful Beech woodland, a route I would not normally have planned to cycle along. I generally don't cycle along footpaths and certainly not footpaths that are not rights of way. (I am a member of the NT though so my conscience was clear in that regard.) So decisions, head back or forge a route forward and do I abandon my planned route? As it turned out I was round the back of the house and not too far from the bridleway running along the front of Wimpole Hall - part of the Harcamlow Way also known as Clopton Way. The last time I cycled along here it was full of cows and sheep, this time the fields were empty. Last time I forgot to take a picture of the Hall - here is one this time.


What I had not quite appreciated was that the route is a mix of byway and footpath, which seems rather odd for a path which has a tarmac surface. I only realised this whilst looking at the map when I got back. Here is where the footpath exits the Wimpole Hall estate, some magnificent, but faded gates. The path exits via a smaller gate to the left onto the Ermine Way (the A1198). My plan by the way was to get onto this road and then cycle up to the Old Wimpole Road and back along it to New Farm which is where I should have been in the first place. So I did not have to abandon my planned route.


The Ermine Way was unpleasant and fast and some cars overtook with what seemed like millimetres to spare, still I only had myself to blame for being there. Before long I reached the Old Wimpole Road and not long after that the bridleway to Kingston. This had three names - Harcamlow Way, Crane's Lane and Wimpole Way. I assume that the real one is Crane's lane, the other names are an attempt to create a unified route out of different tracks and paths. Once again it was soggy but not too bad. The day was drawing to an end though. This is a view looking back along Crane's Lane with the sun starting to set.


This is the same picture but taken using multiple exposures and combined - and closer to what I actually saw as I stood there. It was no longer a sunny afternoon with clear blue skies though.


After reaching Kingston the route I should have taken is shown along with the route I actually took in green. When looking at the map and planning my route I had seen the bridleway leading to Toft and thought it would be an interesting route to explore. On the map it is called Armshold Lane and you can see it here - or at least part of it. What I hadn't realised in my haste to get cycling was that the last little bit of it was footpath. What is it with bridleways that turn into footpaths - what good are they to cyclists or horse riders? They seem guaranteed to trick the unwary, well it tricked me anyway. The path close to Toft was a potholed nightmare - you would not want to cycle or ride a horse there. So I looked for an alternative route and ended up back-tracking to Kingston. When I did actually cycle through Toft I had only been a field away from the road at the point where I gave up.


At this point there was no sun and it was starting to get cold so I could have stopped to put more clothes on, or I could keep up a good pace into Cambridge. I did the latter and had to use my flashing light - but quite a lot of the route along the B1046 was on shared-use path and I made good progress back. This seems to be quite a popular cycle-commuter route, well I passed quite a few anyway. By the time I got back to Cambridge I was glad to be back and to get a hot bath. If it had been much further I would have stopped and put some socks on, my toes were pretty chilled in sandals at the end.

I can certainly recommend most of the route though and Kingston Wood looks interesting and has a bridleway to get to it.


  1. It's a really under-appreciated part of the county, I'm glad you liked it.

    Next time you're in The Belts try taking any track that runs at right-angles to the main path. Go in the direction that leads to the natural bowl with Wimpole Hall at the bottom. The views are very good, and because The Belts are only about 200m in depth, a very quick detour from the route. The other direction can end with a look at a ploughed field, but a couple have a good view to the north.

    Harcamlow Way is a complete bust for me, even on a mountain bike. Wet, rutted by tractors and rough from horse's hooves. I first tried it about 15 years ago with 10+12 year-old boys who wanted to go to Wimpole Home Farm. After too many mudguard clearing sessions we went there & back along the A603 instead. The boys were fine, I was the scared one....

    .... "Their mother will kill me if they tell her which way we went."

    It's a long way from home for me - living on the Suffolk border I don't get there very often, good to see your photos.

  2. I certainly did enjoy it, it is a pity there are not a few more cycle friendly routes around the Wimpole area. Bridleways and byways can be a bit of a mixed bag I find.