Friday, October 15, 2010

An Impromptu cycle visit to the Phone Booth Gallery - Prickwillow

Thursday, 14th October: An article in the local paper, the Cambridge News, caught my eye. Although before I mention that; whilst I call it a paper, I almost never buy the paper version of the Cambridge News, except perhaps at the end of the day when I happen to be passing a newsagent. It is an obvious thing to say, but with the advent of the Internet it has radically changed the way I interact with information. If anything I pay far more attention to the Cambridge News, because it is now so much more convenient. Its USP (unique selling" point) is of course its local news, which is both topical and timely. I also check out the website when travelling, to catch up on what is happening locally. So I have gone from buying the newspaper a couple of times a month to reading it for free every day. So all I can say is I hope that it gets sufficient revenues from advertisements.

I do however buy a daily newspaper and read it. When commuting to London I switched to the Times in its tabloid form and have not switched since. There was not a lot of space on the commuter trains and the tabloid form was so much easier to read. I also used to read the Times Online and long-time readers of this blog might remember seeing links to news stories from the Time. However since the Times Online started charging for access I have stopped using the on-line version completely. I suppose I feel sufficiently strongly that that the Web is a place for "free" access to information (although I accept that really it is via ad-funding) so despite the modest cost of reading the Times On-line I don't (which could even be free if I subscribed for my paper newspaper).

You can see that my Posts can be a little bit like my cycling, I take random detours along paths that interest me. So back to the original route - "Red phone box turned into art Exhibition" was the item that caught my eye. It turns out that BT is offering local councils the chance to "adopt" red telephone boxes that are no longer viable. Whilst the BT phone boxes are iconic (well the red ones anyway) times have changed hugely. The second link (April 2009) suggests that 60% of the BT UK payphones were unprofitable and 6,000 of them are used to make less than one call a month. When I was a boy, even having a landline was not that common and many people relied upon the phone box to make telephone calls. You also had to go through an operator for long distance calls and even when it was possible to make long-distance calls (STD- Subscriber Trunk dialling) the electro-mechanical switches meant it could take 45 seconds to make a connection. (Not to mention the A and B buttons on pay-phones.)

So despite the rather unpleasant weather - cold and drizzly, I planned a visit to Prickwillow to check out the museum - The Phone Box Gallery. Before setting off the temperature was around 8C, so I ended up wearing a pair of leggings and then putting on waterproof leggings as well. I also wore a waterproof jacket, long-fingered water-proof gloves, water-proof socks and... sandals. I know the sandals are a bit inconsistent, but they are comfortable and with the waterproof socks a reasonable compromise when it is not freezing. Whilst I was not planning on paddling in them, they would also keep my feet dry if, whilst negotiating a muddy byway I ended up dabbing my foot into a puddle. I also wore my fluorescent yellow (bobble-less) bobble hat - more for psychological reasons as it is not waterproof - but it slows down the rain drops.

In the end my route evolved after setting off, my destination was Prickwillow, but I left the Lodes Way route and took a short-cut via Upware and a byway before rejoining NCN11 to Ely. Then I overshot Prickwillow to take in another byway which led back into the village. On the way back I was going to take a fairly straight route to Isleham and Fordham, but instead I followed the (at the moment) secret National Byway route which took the long way to Isleham via Soham as mapped by TomC. Then I rejoined the Lodes Way after Burwell before the final leg back to Cambridge. Here is the map of my route with the BRT link here. It was quite a long trip, longer than I had realised, although there are several places where it could be shortened. I seem to be cycling every other day at the moment (not including popping to the newspaper shop) so I felt a long-ish ride was in order. Also having taken the time to get togged up with wet-weather cycling gear I felt I might as well make use of it.

The route is just over 90Km (just under 60miles) but very flat with the elevations varying from a maximum of 20m above sea level to 2m below sea level, with such a limited range it is difficult to sneak any hills in. For the most part it is on country lanes and off-road tracks. The worst byway was just after Upware - the rest were fine, although I avoided the Ness Farm bridleway into Burwell. The map is made up of four snapshots (using the W7 snipping tool) stuck together using Photoshop Elements, which is why it looks a bit scrappy, I just managed to get all the route onto one page on the second try.

Camb Pwillow Annt.jpg

When I am cycling longer distances on a rainy day I tend not to stop quite so often to take pictures. When I stop I have to take off my gloves, take off the waterproof cover on my camera bag, then unzip the bag, whip the camera out and try to take pictures without it getting wet. But I see that someone has kindly put in place some comfortable seating along the Lodes Way, by the Headlake Drove crossroads.


The magnificent visit, to be admired from the roadside sofa was looking a little grey and you would either have to crick your neck or turn the sofa around to see it. The picture (made of 3 (x 7) pictures) looks back towards the direction of White Fen with Reach to the left and Upware to the right. I went right.

Headlake Drove crossroads.jpg

The view from the crossroads, looking towards Reach. The rain was not continuous, but it did keep stopping and starting


For a change, after passing Upware, when I reached the A1123 instead of turning right and cycling down towards the village of Wicken and then turning down Way Lane to get to NCN11 I went straight across the road along past Red barn Farm on High Fen Road, which was actually a road, before reaching a junction leading onto Shaw's Drove, a track (otherwise known as a bridleway). On a wet day, after quite a bit of rain it was just about acceptable to cycle along for someone not wanting to get all muddied up. I managed to get along it to Padney Drove (a road along which NCN11 runs) without dabbing my feet down, but only just and there were quite a few places when I had to scrape along the hedgerow trying to avoid getting snagged by brambles. My rain gear helped to stop me from getting scratched - a problem when wearing shorts. Padney Drove passes over a brief bit of bridleway (which is a private road) and then turns right along Goose Fen Drove ( a road).

I had set off before the rush hour and met only one car on the road between White Fen and Upware, I did meet a few tractors and two double decker school buses on Padney Drove though - it is a busy farm route! I have always found the drivers very courteous though and I generally pull to one side and let them go by, they always wave in acknowledgement. There was time to stop on Goose Fen Drive to take a picture of this tractor having a rest. I often see ploughs and harrows left in field, but it is not so common to see tractors left behind.

Instead of taking the NCN11 road route I took a farm track just before reaching Goose Fen Bridge. There are one or two NCN11 signs along its way and it is not a bad track to take. It reaches Barway Bridge before doubling back slightly into Barway. The OS map shows it as a footpath, but I assumed that it is acceptable for cyclists as there are NCN11 signs along it. The Sustrans map gives no indication that it is an alternate NCN11 route through Barway though.


After rejoining the NCN11 route alongside the River Great Ouse I stopped to take pictures of some people out sculling. There was a third person in a single scull, but I could not frame the picture so well. Ely Cathedral is in the background and there is a goods (freight) train on its way through Ely station.


I went around Ely and through Queen Adelaide, but instead of taking the Prickwillow road carried on north alongside the river to Branch Bridge where I took the byway to the North of the River Lark. This is the view looking back along the byway. It was a reasonable track with a hard surface and after a short distance (alongside Tom's Hole Farm) became a road. The River Lark is to the left in this picture. There is a byway on the other (South) bank of the River lark which I must try out the next time. (It has less road and more byway.)


To the north I could see a "smoke" plume - which I though was probably coming from the Sugar Beet factory up near Southery. On checking the map later it did seem to be the case. It turns out that it is British Sugar's largest refinery in Europe and has been there since 1925. In the early days the access was via river and railway - no roads. The UK's first bioethanol plant was opened there as well. In looking for information on the factory I found a wealth of historical information including a guide to the history of sugar and the story of a Fenland Factory. Apparently the Wissington CHP plant can generate over 50MW of power (enough for 120,000 people).

In searching for information I had used "Southery" as a search term, It is a nearby village, and found some wonderful pictures of life in Southery over the last 50 years including a piece on a train crash in June 1939 in 10 Mile Bank. (Near the bottom of the link.)


Once in Prickwillow I found the Museum with one of organisers being photographed admiring the display. He must have been a professional photographer, he had a radio-controlled flash unit and took loads of pictures. I kept out of the way, but hung around since the reason for coming this way was to check out the museum. I ended up chatting, normally the box is locked, since it has art works on display. They have virtually a year's sequence of different exhibitions, which will change each month. The website is: and the gallery was opened on the 11th October 2010. Having done another search on the web for info I found this Daily Mail article so perhaps it was a Daily mail photographer taking pictures when I passed by. The article is dated 15th October 2010 so it probably is - the guy in my picture and the DM picture (Nick Edell a graphic designer) has the same clothes on!


My first picture was taken (without flash) looking through the glass. The first exhibition is by Pete Baker and the organisers are working with ADEC - Arts Development in East Cambridgeshire. Pete Baker's website is Steel Dreams which as you might imagine combines art and metal to produce these mythologically inspired works.

You can see my reflection in the window as well - wearing my yellow hat.


Fortunately as I had happened by when a professional photographer was taking pictures I was also allowed to open the door to take my pictures. Pete Baker also produced the eel sculpture in Ely's Jubilee Gardens (must have a look the next time I am there.) For something made from metal is has quite an ethereal quality to it.


I rather like these pieces, a far cry from what we used to make in metalwork when I was at school. I shall have to keep an eye out for the other exhibitions when they change. I did mention that they ought to put the Website address somewhere on the outside of the phone box so that passers by could follow up on what they see exhibited. Here is a Streetview Link of the Phone box in question - a K6 as it happens, it looks a bit shabbier in the link than it does now though. The phone box is on a lay-by so it is easy to stop and just by the Baptist Chapel on Main Street.


I had been listening to my MP3 player whilst cycling, but when I stopped to talk with Nick I had paused it. As I set off I re-started it, but forgot to zip up the pocket it was in. After a short distance it dropped out of my pocket and dangled, the earphones, stuck in my ears provided enough grab to stop it dropping to the floor. Except it started swinging and before I could grab it the MP3 player went into the spokes and was catapulted off into the bumper of a parked car and then into a puddle. Fortunately it has a rubber case to protect it from such eventualities and after drying it off and zipping it in my pocket properly it still worked.

It remained grey as I cycled out of Prickwillow but rather than follow the road straight to Isleham, I took the National Byway route down Great Fen Road. Whilst the National Byway website does not have the route for Cambridgeshire published there are quite a few signs about. The signage is not quite as profuse as the sustrans NCN route signage, but it is pretty good and tends to pop up when there is a turn to take. So you have to pay attention, if you go past a turn you will not realise it until what could be many miles down the road at the next turn when there is no sign. In this case there was a sign on the advance Soham signpost and then another one opposite the actual turning.


I passed this derelict Primitive Methodist Chapel and when home found another interesting website featuring its history. Something to look out for is the shrinkage of the land around buildings in the Fens. It is caused by the drainage and leaves the ground level lower around the building than when they were first built, which in this case required steps to be built up to the doorway. According to the website it is also not uncommon that buildings end up leaning - as does this one - and I had thought it was my dodgy photography.


Just nearby is a modern BT Phone box, judging by the growth around the box it does not see a lot of use. As you can see it will not accept coins. The last time I used a phone box was a few years ago when I had punctured and had no patches with me. I had also forgotten my mobile phone and had to make a reverse-charge phone call home to get my son to drive out and pick me up.

As I stood taking the picture - the earth moved for me - a large lorry passed by and the tarmac moved around as if it was sitting on a large lump of rubber. It is no surprise that roads across the Fens are prone to cracking up.


The National Byway then heads into and back out of Soham. I did think I had gotten lost in Soham, but was just being impatient when looking for National Byway signs. The downside of this route is that you have to cross the busy A142 Soham bypass, twice. You pass Qua Fen Common on the way in and East Fen Common on the way out as well as heading down the 20MPH centre of the town - Pratt Street.

The route then heads out along towards Isleham along East Fen Drove and Temple Road. As I was cycling along East Fen Drove I heard a Police Car behind me with sirens on. Normally I would not stop for cars passing me on thin country lanes, but I make an exception for emergency vehicles and stopped and moved onto the grass verge. (I got an acknowledgement blip of the horn as well.) They were dealing with someone near one of the shops in Isleham, I passed them walking back to their Police Car.

This is quite a busy time of year for farmers, sugar beet is being lifted and moved at the moment it seems, so I did find myself pulling of the road a couple of times. This rather strange garden wall, with windows in caught my eye, I wonder if this was part of Isleham Priory?


This is Hall Farm, with what I assume is Hall Barn to the left, which is where the road gets its name - Hall Barn Road. Isleham seems to have a long history - CCC has a report on Isleham.


In my own investigation of ancient cycle routes there were signs of the route of the "Green Cycle Ride" also seen near Worsted Lodge and Babraham, now being superseded by the secretive National Byway. Actually although the green "Cycle Ride" signs look fairly new they pre-date County Council web activity.


There was time to stop to take a picture of the Isleham village sign on my way out of town - set against a Horse Chestnut tree with infested by the leaf-miner moth. The boat in the middle appears to be carrying coal.


In the main I stuck to roads on the way back, through Fordham to Burwell, I gave the bridleway from Ness Farm to Broads Road in Burwell a miss - it was pretty muddy and rutted the last time and I doubted it would be any better this time. Mind you Ness Road between Fordham and Burwell is not the most pleasant of roads during the "rush hour". Most cars overtake properly, but every now and then a car will pass with very little room to spare. Now if I am cycling at say, 25Km/hr and they are passing at 100Km/hr that means they are closing on me at just over 20m every second. Which makes me wonder when they see me, an alert driver probably has a thinking time of around 1.5second, which means a car will travel 30m in the time they think about me and then react. So I can easily imagine a driver, not "clocking" me until they are within 50m, which means they are only 20m away when they start manourevring around me. I guess this explains why some cars seem to carry on moving out onto the other side of the road after they have gone past me - they have failed to interpret the distance properly.

Now cyclists are advised to take a primary position which puts the cyclist in an assertive position on the road an "discourages" stupid over-taking and makes the driver perceive the cyclist as more visible. I agree it does and generally it feels safer to do so. However I have to admit when cycling along a fast country lane I find it very hard to cycle in such a manner. It only takes one driver to get it wrong - having been hit by a car where the driver did not see me despite my "taking the road" it colours my view I suppose. I have no problem taking the road in towns - but fast country lanes - that's a different matter.

So I turned off along Howlem Balk to North Street when I picked up what used to be NCN11 in Burwell and then took Newnham Drove to the Lodes way. I did stop on Holwem Balk to take a picture of the clouds in the sky though.


When I got home I was pretty dry in that the rain hadn't gotten through my waterproofs, but wearing waterproof leggings meant my Lycra leggings were sodden underneath. Mind you it is not something you notice until you stop and take them off.

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