Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Tale of Two Rivers

Monday, 25th October: At this time of year, I try to take advantage of the fine weather to get in some cycling and the not so fine weather to get stuff done. So when Monday turned out to be sunny I thought I would get in a longer ride, but where? In the end I went for an old standby type of ride - up to Ely and back. as it was a Monday I thought I'd cycle up alongside the Cam on NCN11. That is the NCN11 to nowhere, sorry Waterbeach and then head up to Coveney along mainly country lanes before heading back to Ely and then taking the Lodes Way to Cambridge. As it turned out I did take a couple of detours, one a byway near Grunty Fen and the other around Ely. The route is shown below and here is the BRT link. It turned out to be a 75Km / 46mile ride in glorious sunshine, it was cold, but there was little wind and I did catch the sunset as I cycled back along the Lodes Way. There is not much climbing, even for Flatlanders, the two noticeable bits are up to Coveney and around Ely, they only reach 24m above sea level though and were over before they started.

Cambridge to Ely Loop 2Ant .jpg

Monday is a good day to cycle along NCN11 alongside the Cam, well better than the weekends anyway. It is a nice track but not too wide in places and understandably a popular route to walk. The only "hazard" comes from students providing coaching advice to rowers. They seem to ride along the track permanently looking over at the river shouting instructions, some even carry loudhailers to make themselves heard. Their single-minded focus on the rowing means they don't always notice cyclists coming the other way though.

There were a few sculls out taking advantage of both the sun and more importantly the absence of wind. I always use to find kayaking on a windy day a challenge. The boats look so flimsy you wonder where the buoyancy comes from, yep Archimedes wasn't wrong. I think I'll stick to cycling at least you can see where you are going without getting a crick in your neck. There is something slightly surreal though to be on a river like this passing through meadows with cows grazing.


I also took a few pictures of reflections in the water - something that works quite well on a still day.


I stopped to take picture of the A14 bridge over the Cam (apparently sometimes known as the Motorway Bridge or the Bovis Bridge). There is some work taking place on the bridge and the path detours slightly through the concrete girders. Metal plates have been laid down to provide a firm surface for walkers and cyclists. The orange barriers can be seen on the left of the bridge. As I took the picture a steam boat came into view. I think the number on the Bow is Q5843 or maybe Q3843, but I can't seem to track down any information. I should have taken a picture as it went by me, or perhaps just paid attention to what it was called. There is a lad on the left of the smokestack with his head in his hands looking pretty fed up though.

In case you were wondering and even if you weren't I passed 6 cyclists and 19 walkers on the Cam path, I also passed a bunch of people fishing, but they don't rate counting in my brain - sorry to all you fisher-people.


I heard helicopters a couple of times somewhere between Waterbeach and Cottenham. The first time there were two but I did not get a clear view. Although I could hear them for some time the hedgerows obscured my view. I assumed that they were probably military helicopters (flying in formation). The second time I heard the sound there were again two helicopters. I have no idea whether it was the same two going around or two new ones. They were some distance away but at maximum zoom this is what they looked like - Police helicopters, or at least they seem to have the distinctive yellow and blue look about them. The one difference is that these did not seem to have the distinctive yellow vertical tail fins. So perhaps they belonged to another Police Force. Well a quick look on this website shows that all UK Police Helicopters looks the same, well not quite but similar with some having yellow fins and some not. It turns out that ours (well Cambridgeshire Police) doesn't have a rotor, which is safer. If you want a closer look the Cambs Police have a very nice picture, where you can clearly see the yellow tail fins. Instead of a tail rotor a fan exhaust is directed out of slots on the tail boom.


I normally bypass Cottenham, or rather as much of the B1049 between Cottenham and Wilburton as I can, by heading up Long Drove. Long Drove runs in parallel to the B road and then rejoins it just before the River Great Ouse. The road up to Wilburton is not too bad, reasonably wide for a B road, it is quite fast though (for cars that is.)

The last time I looked at the area on the map I had noticed a byway out of Wilburton which I took this time around. It is called Hinton Way and is a track that seems to have provided a short-cut to the old Wilburton Railway Station on the Ely to St Ives railway line. (Which like quite a lot of village railway stations was not that conveniently sited for the villagers.)

Here is the track, in places quite muddy, rutted and slippery. With a following wind I ought to have been able to cycle along it without dabbing my feet - but I didn't, in fact I think I stopped three times. Nothing serious, I just found myself cycling in a deepening rut towards a puddle which I felt was best avoided.


At the point the track reaches the road is where the old railway line used to cross. It is not very visible, since it closed over 30 years ago and as the land is flat there are no cuttings or bridges to speak of. This track is what remains of the line in these parts. It heads (or rather headed) to the old Haddenham station before curving north to Sutton.


The mud of the byway curbed my enthusiasm for exploring and although there are a lot of byways in this part of the world I gave them a miss. I have followed a couple of byways from Witcham and then back-tracked in the past. What I really ought to do is bring my MTB up and some sarnies (and of course jelly babies) and explore the areas more thoroughly. I will wait until it is a bit drier as well.

I did take a slightly different route around Ely though which took me past Jubilees Gardens where an Eel Sculpture is to be found. It was created by artist Peter Baker currently exhibiting at the Phone Box Gallery, Prickwillow.


I followed a route along the side of the River Great Ouse through Ely, walking as appropriate. You can see how little wind there was from the stillness of the water. There are a lot of boats in the area and boat sheds and boats for hire.


This bridge is a railway bridge heading towards Ely Railway Station (which was not closed down by Beeching). I took this picture because I wanted a close-up of the bridge reflections in the water which because of the angle look more like the trunks of trees rather than the short, vertical bridge girders.


I then followed NCN11 alongside the River Great Ouse under the new railway bridge (the Newmarket Bridge according to the map) pausing briefly to take a picture of the graffiti.


The only snag with the return to Cambridge in in the evening is that the low Sun in the sky dazzles you. I was glad I had my sunglasses on. I did find myself trying to work out where I would be on the Lodes Way when the sun started slipping below the horizon. I paused after hauling my bike onto the footbridge over Burwell Lode - the sun gives a warm look, especially with the lemony-orange look to the sky. Again you can see how still the water was, if anything what little wind there was had gone completely.


Although I have been this way quite a few times and seen these ditches alongside the first part of the path between Burwell Lode and Newnham Drove and hadn't quite appreciated what was going on. I think these are a form of HaHa, a trench to help keep livestock from wandering where you don't want them, but providing uninterrupted views of the open and flat countryside. There is a trench on each side of this part of Lodes Way.


A strange cloud formation over the "Burwell Fen"


A little bit further along, on the stretch between Newnham Drove and Reach Lode Bridge the path is having a fence constructed (there is already an existing one on the other side). The posts have been set but no wire-fencing has been put in. I wonder how this will affect the wild deer in the area, mind you they seem to be able to go through anything.

I passed two horse riders on the path as well - they give a sense of how wide the path is. I am still a bit worried that the horse hooves seem to be digging into the path quite a lot. I am not arguing for the horse to be banned, but do wonder about the path's specification


The sunset was nicely timed to take a silhouette of Reach Lode Bridge


In fact I took a few pictures of the bridge - the same silhouette, but using Photomatix to combine multiple exposures to bring back the colour to the grass.


I even took a picture halfway up the bridge, in my mind I was thinking that the sun was the gold at the end of the road - the thing to aim for. Somehow that thought doesn't quite come out in the picture.


Actually I managed to reach White Fen as the sun hit the horizon. It is funny how the sun seems to look bigger just before setting despite it not changing at all, it is just an optical illusion.


When I got home a quick update of my cycling records, I have cycled more than 1,000Km in October which is the 7th month out of 10 this year that I have done so. There is only one year where there were more 1,000Km months and that was two years ago when I topped 16,000Km for the year. A figure I will have to work hard at if I am to beat it in the future.


  1. Haha

    You're right the ditch in photo 12 is meant to act as a haha. But as I've seen the cattle grazing there get into and out of ditches quite a lot steeper and deeper than that I have my doubts about how effective it's going to be. That part of "Burwell" Fen will continue to be used for grazing, but the part between Newnham Drove and the new bridge will have its draining managed to bring its water level up soon, so it reverts to pools and marsh. That's why the bank the cycle track runs on is a little higher on that side.

  2. The bank is a little less steep than normal for a Haha. When I was a boy a cow jumped a fence wandered into our garden, in the house round the kitchen table, back out and the jumped the fence back into the field again.

    I will look at the lie of the land a bit more closely now - and perhaps I'd better put on my mozzie spray ;-)

  3. The difference in level between new track and surrounding land, before it was dug to get the clay to make the bank, is less than one metre. So it's not easy to spot what has happened -- which is the idea. Some sections of new bank are needed on the other side of the barn, which is why there were archaeological excavations there in the summer.

  4. It is subtle, last time along there I tried to take a picture of the height difference but it did not really show up. It will be interesting to see how the land lies when the area has higher water levels. It will also be fun to cycle though after if has snowed.

  5. If we ever meet when I've got my laptop computer with me I'll show you an elevation survey accurate to 0.5m vertically and 1.0m horizontal resolution.

    Hmmm, my new Android phone runs the same OS kernel as the laptop, I wonder if.....


  6. .... yes it will. Relevant section of height survey uploaded to phone ;-)