Friday, October 22, 2010

Yet another way to St Ives (back along the CGB though!)

Poet's Day, Friday 22nd October: After the early morning frosts and cold but sunny weather mid-week, Friday was looking warmer. In fact when I went out cycling it was around 12C I think. So where to go? I managed to get out early, one of the advantages of working from home, you can re-arrange your day around the daylight. I felt like getting in some distance so the obvious thing to do was cycle along the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB). Despite a few recent anti-clockwise rides I ended up cycling on a clockwise route this time. There were two reasons. The first reason was that the wind was quite strong and would be sort of behind me coming back down the CGB - so a fast return on a traffic-free stretch of not too bad track. The main reason though was that I had decided to check out a path between Bar Hill and Lolworth. I had read about it on a CTC Cambridge Blog ride "An afternoon ride to Connington". It is a footpath, but there are signs suggesting that "local cyclists" may use it. Given the location of Lolworth I am amazed that this was not "made into" a shared use cycle path in the first place. The only road out of Lolworth is onto the A14, where I think you have to turn left and head up the A14 before turning back near Boxworth (if you wish to head south).


I then cycled along a bridleway to Boxworth before heading over the A14 to join the NCN51 route near Swavesey and then up to St Ives in order to return along the CGB cycle path. There was one uncertainty - the River great Ouse Viaduct has signs indicating it will be closed during October. The last time I cycled along the route it was closed - but only for Buses! and the path at the side of the bridge was open. So this was the "ideal route" - just over 50Km/30 miles in distance, reaching 45m above sea level in elevation at the start of the ride, but after 20Km it is pretty much flat thereafter.


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This is Cutter Ferry Path, a convenient cut through, just after passing under the Elizabeth Way Bridge. You can either go through to Midsummer Common or as I do head north up to Gilbert Road. It is not the most cycle friendly piece of infrastructure, but familiarity dulls the awareness. This is the path looking back towards the Elizabeth Way bridge. The strange thing is the the cycle route is on the raised pavement and the pedestrians bit is on the "road" - it is quite wide though. There are also a set of random barriers with concrete posts and a metal pole to knock unwary cyclists motorcyclists of their bikes. I have also felt that it is odd that such posts do not have any reflective strips on them so they show up at night. That might be to encourage cyclists to use lights at night maybe.


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This is the path looking the other way - with the counter-intuitive cycle marking on the pavement. Mind you the painted signs on the path seem to have worn away. It is easy to get lost in the network of roads here and double back towards Elizabeth Way. Well it is easy for me anyway. The roads in this part of town have cars parked either side of them and so there is not enough room for two vehicles to pass and since most motorists consider cyclists as beneath them they try to force their "right of way".




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There is not much to comment on until the exploring after Bar Hill bit of the ride. Although I did cycle along Gilbert Road with 15 cars parked in the advisory car parking cycle lanes. It seems to me that this road is one of the widest in the city of Cambridge with a large verge as well as many of the houses having gardens. I also saw, but did not count quite a few cars parked on the grass verge as well. Perhaps the plan should have been to have segregated cycle paths (with barriers) and then allow cars to park on the road and block it if they wish.


I've taken a picture of this bit of tree art in Dry Drayton before - but it is weathering well. It is just before the Bar Hill Cycle Way in Dry Drayton acting as a guardian.




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This time I took the clockwise route around Bar Hill. which meant going up hill after the Cycleway and round the circular road that surrounds the place (Saxon Way). I almost missed the sign indicating the footpath. I was quite surprised - the path was better than I had been expecting and despite the gravelly surface quite easy to ride on on my Hybrid bike (25mm tyres). This is the path looking back towards Bar Hill, which as well as having a road around also has a belt of trees.




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The path then crossed another two fields before reaching Cuckoo Lane, Lolworth. I then went straight across the crossroads in Lolworth, along Redlands Road and past Yarmouth Farm along an unnamed bridleway. I have been this way before, although in the other direction.




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The view from the cycle path, not much of a hill but the clouds in the sky looked spectacular. The view the other way was of the A14 and the cars and lorries already queueing along the road.


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The bridleway reached Boxworth where this time I turned right at the crossroads. (Straight on takes you to another bridleway and then to Connington). As you cycle into Boxworth you reach Manor Lane and pass a Manor House. (Strangely Google labels the address as Childerley?) I was surprised by how many cars followed me down from Boxworth - I guess it is a bit of a rat run over from the St Neot's direction. After Boxworth I crossed over the A14 on to Boxworth End turning left onto the Rose and crown Road to Fen Drayton.


I did stop to get a picture of the suns rays shining down over Connington on the other side of the A14, which already had traffic jams in one direction. Thereafter I followed the NCN51 into St Ives. Surprisingly I crossed the roundabout on the A1096 without any delays and then headed into St Ives on the London Road - once a busy route into St Ives and now a "green dot" road, a no through road to most types of traffic, but bikes are ok. My route then passes Waitrose before reaching the point where the CGB crosses the A1096. Fortunately there are light-controlled crossings here and they respond very quickly. The A1096 is a busy road, yet they give a high priority to pedestrians and cyclists here. There are crossings in Cambridge on minor roads where you wait for ages after pushing the button to cross.




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As I cycled along through the Park & Ride car park area of the CGB in St Ives, things were not looking good. The Viaduct down at the far end appeared to be completely fenced off. Where as the last time the pedestrian/cycle bit was open. I also passed a lad on his bike coming the other way who seemed annoyed and jumped of his bike and then slammed it into the grass - as if denied the ability to pass. There also appeared to be a workman walking down from the bridge. So it looked as if I would have to backtrack through Fenstanton. I cycled up to the fence across the bridge and yes the fencing was right across, although I could not see any sign of activity on the bridge or indeed any sign of activity having taken place. Everything looked as it always does feeling a little miffed I cycled back towards St Ives, but thought sod it. I know that the CGB is not officially open to cyclists and walkers, but even Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC) CGB documents acknowledge the cycling and walking that is taking place before its formal opening. Yet they could not even be bothered to put up any signs showing a detour. Here we have a route that has signs indicating it will be closed for a month - but little courtesy has been shown to the users.


The first time I encountered the Viaduct closed signs I couldn't find any mention on the web - this time the Hunts Post reports it. Apparently this closure is to address the snagging work associated with the bridge - the replacement of a sub-standard water-proofing layer. However the news article implies that this is not to address the major issue - that of installing expansion joints in the bridge beams. Unfortunately the documents that the CCC publishes on the status of the CGB don't seem to be available this weekend to check. (They do report that there website will be down over the weekend. They seem to use both a "www." and "ww2." prefix and the second one is not available.) If that is the case then the bridge will presumably be closed again for the major work. The Hunts Post is running a "Guess the Opening Date" competition though. It also mentions that the CCC must wait six weeks after hand over before they can start work on the fixes, if they decide to take on the responsibility.


Now generally I try to be law-abiding, but this time I felt annoyed so I headed back again - there was no sign of any building/repair activity, so I slipped the fence open and went through. On the way through it was still not clear that any work was actually taking place, and I slipped through the fence on the other side. A little later on, when taking a picture of this bit of flooded cycle path, a mature female cyclist passed by on the concrete tracks. She was heading from St Ives so must have done the same as I did. I didn't feel so bad that I had done the same. She stuck to the concrete tracks though. I cycled along the path, or round it in a couple of cases. Since the reparation to the cycle path will apparently have to wait until the flooding season ends and the path seems to flood for a lot of time I guess this won't get fixed until next Summer. (Yes the flooded bits were all just as bad - so I did not take pictures as nothing much has changed.)




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A while back I cycled through Holywell - this is Holywell Church peeping through the trees looking across from the CGB over Fen Drayton lagoon. It seems closer to the water than I remember.




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The nights are definitely drawing in, as I got closer to Cambridge the skies were quite cloudy and the sun was low in the sky. This is the view of Oakington Airfield from the CGB. Which is where Northstowe will be built - I did find this pdf on the Northstowe Area Footpath and Cycleway Network Project. It an instructive document on what it takes to create cycleways and footpaths, both in terms of the local politics and the costs. It quotes figures such as £25K/km for a new footpath and £140K/km for a new cycleway - I am surprised how different they are - although I imagine the cycleway implied is at the better end of the quality scale and not just a pavement with a few signs on it.


I wonder how much of the airfield will be left for historical reasons - such as this "pill box". I guess there will be some concerns about vandalism and safety, but I would hope that some of the original history is left. In fact I think that it is a great shame that there is not more of the old railway still visible on the route of the CGB. After all the route was opened in around 1847 and surely deserves to leave some trace of its history. Whilst we seem keen to list buildings and so preserve them surely other man-made structures should not just disappear entirely. (Or am I just getting old and can now remember the past more clearly than the present!)


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A close up of the hanger buildings still on the Airfield along with a herd of cows. I am not arguing that all these buildings should remain as being of historical interest, although indeed they might be. However you could do a lot in a hangar like that - indoor football, tennis courts, badminton or even a cycle track (maybe not).




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Whilst standing there taking pictures of the Airfield I also took pictures looking up the CGB towards St Ives and down. There is a lot of grass growing between the tracks at this point. The maintenance/cycle path seems to be holding up quite well (except for the atrocious bit near St Ives and the atrocious bit in Cambridge which will had a tarmac surface eventually!). The passage of bikes along it has helped to scrub gravel free lines along it. I guess also there has not been a lot of maintenance traffic since it is difficult to maintain something that has not actually started to be used yet.




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The "downstream" view. The grass between the tracks seems to be growing more readily than on the banking.




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Despite my gripes about the CGB I do think that the cycleway has been a welcome addition to the National Cycle Network. I know that is not why it was built. However there are three types of cycle route - commuter routes, countryside routes and superhighways. There is a need for cycle routes of decent length and quality to facilitate more than just a short <5 miles/ 8Km pop to the shops. But if we don't have the routes most people won't attempt them. Cycling along busy roads is unpleasant - we need more decent cycle routes away from roads. (I might change my tune once buses start running of course.)


In case you are wondering - 13 cyclists on the concrete tracks and 1 on the path alongside - so the majority of cyclists still prefer the concrete. I also noticed that the concrete blocks at the entrances to the CGB tracks had been replaced where it crosses various roads. The last time they have been moved, for trials I assume. So were there trials and were they successful?

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