Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cycling for pleasure or endurance testing?

Sunday, 28th November: After the rather cold ending to my ride yesterday I thought I would think more about when I started to feel cold during a ride. Generally I always start off feeling warm and I don't normally feel cold for some time, but once it has crept up on me it takes a bit of effort to warm up again. In fact what normally happens is I half-heartedly shake a bit of warmth into my feet (and occasionally into my hands) and then just carry on to the point where I get home and my toes have gone so numb that when I change shoes I struggle to push my feet in as the toes (they no longer feel like my toes) get in the way.

This ride was a fairly standard ride for me, basically out to Wicken and back on one of the many permutations now possible thanks to Sustrans, the NT and many other unnamed individuals and organisations. I was going to say, who go without thanks - but let me at least say thank you to all those who work to make cycling a more pleasant and viable way to get out and see the countryside.

So why have I included the map, well I am not sure, I couldn't find this actual ride mapped before. Which doesn't mean I haven't mapped it, it just means I couldn't find it. It can be found on BikeRouteToaster (BRT) at this link. It is around 57Km/ 35 miles and pretty flat as you would expect from a ride in the Fens. Although the byways and bridleways tend to be muddier at this time of year the wintry weather has frozen them so they tend to be easier to cycle along. You just have to watch out for the large tractor tyre ruts with ice and puddles at the bottom. I didn't get out very early so the sun started setting before I had gotten very far so all of the pictures were taken in the first sixth (?) of the ride. So I have labelled the map to show where I took them.

It is a great pity that the straight line running diagonally through the label P1 is not a decent (and legal) cycle track it would make a great cycle commute through to Cambridge (or the Park & Ride on Newmarket Road) from Lode and Long Meadow and beyond.

When I set out I had the usual multi-layers of clothing and was too warm if anything. I certainly did not feel as if staying warm was an effort. When I set out it was below freezing (around -1.2C) and yes I did take a hankie with me.

This is what I mean about the byways being frozen, Low Fen Drove Way is quite flat, but can be soggy, in this weather it is firm, but not too slippery. I passed an RAC van parked up by the road near the bridge over the A14 (on Low Fen Drove Way). Presumably the motoring organisations have their work cut out for them during the bad weather, both with cars that won't start and myriad accidents.

One of the new crop of cycleway around the Cambridge area (thank you for those as well). It does surprise me how long it can take to build a complete cycle way, this one still had signs warning users that it is incomplete. At least they seem to expect cyclists on it though. There is no point in having a decent cycle way unused because it is almost finished. It is better to start using it when there a decent chunks of it available.

There were some interesting clouds in the sky as I cycled along the Harcamlow Way (bridleway) - is snow on the way? When I set out it was certainly cold enough.

As I approached Lode, along the track of the old Cambridge to Mildenhall Railway Line (which is I believe a permissive bridleway) the sun was already pretty low in the sky. You can see from the way the leaves have dropped from the tree in the foreground that it has been cold and not windy. All the leaves have pretty much dropped straight down.

The same view, but with more zoom. I liked the way the orange glow was still visible through the trees.

At this point I was still comfortably warm and not feeling the effects of the freezing temperatures. However once it was dark I started to feel colder and the temperature also fell a little further (-2C ish). After around one and a half hours my toes started to feel a little cold and after two hours my fingers were also feeling colder. Unlike yesterday I did stop and do a bit of hand and foot waving to get some warm blood back into them. As I mentioned yesterday, keeping my hands warm is not really a problem, despite the fact that I am hanging onto freezing metal handlebars. I guess my feet suffer constant pressure as well as being close to cold metal pedals.

There were quite a few people out and about despite (or maybe because of) the wintry weather. I was surprised how many cars were to be found deep into the fens around Lodes Way. One thing I did notice is that with my new brighter light when cycling along the thin country road between Upware and Swaffham Bulbeck (a small piece of which is used by Lodes Way) in the dark cars stopped to allow me to go by. They must assume that I am on a small motorbike and treat me accordingly rather than see a bicycle which should not take up any space and be whizzed by.

I should also mention that the fluorescent? stripes on the anti-car barriers on Reach Lode Bridge reflected well. To be honest the bare metal barriers on the other side did as well though.

I also saw a couple of deer after joining Lodes Way via Newnham Drove. The works to increase the width near Lodes Way have not finished, but were cycleable. The gates were shut, but there was no bailer twine strung across the gap in one of the gates this time.

My toes were still cold when I got back and for some reason found the door locked and my wife smiling at me but for some reason not realising that it was locked. So I milked the sympathy as I finally hobbled in on my freezing feet. I really must get some new cycling boots.

Cycling into Suffolk - just (and then back to Cambridge trying not to lose appendages)

Saturday 27th, November: Although we have yet to have any snow here in the Flatlands of East Anglia it is pretty cold. I find that it is best to try to get out before it gets too dark, which is when it really starts getting much colder. The trouble is with Sunset now around 3:50pm it is tricky getting out before it gets dark and taking pictures also becomes very constrained. The situation is not going to change until next year when the days start getting longer again. I haven't really thought about it much, but this year I have tended to cycle moderate distances more often, whereas the past few years have tended to include more longer 150Km - 200Km rides over the middle of the year. I am still on target to hit 12,000Km for the year - which is only 32Km per day, but each and every day and it adds up if you stop. It looks as if I will hit the end of the month having cycled over 11,300Km / 7,000 miles for the year, leaving 700Km/ 440 miles to do in December which I have managed to do in 6 out of the last 8 years...

In case you are wondering I do realise that this is perhaps a little bit obsessive, but what gets measured gets done. As I get older I am more aware of the need to "use it or lose it" and am planning on cycling from Land's End to John O' Groats again in a couple of years time. Keeping up my cycling also makes it possible to visit some interesting countries and to enjoy cycling through them. Cycle tourism with a bunch of strangers is really enjoyable and I think you get to know the people of the country you are visiting a little better. Mind you if my kids got this obsessional I'd probably worry about it, when you are young staying fit doesn't require so much effort.

(Note Tesco have a twofor on packets of Jelly Babies.)

So what this really all boils down to is that I still have to get out and clock up some distance. With the cold weather, shorter days and soggy byways/bridleways route planning is harder. I like to explore, but that is much better in the daylight, although I do like cycling along (off-road) routes I know quite well at night as they feel so different. So the route I ended up with was this one. The out part was in the daylight and the return part was on roads I know well. I headed out towards Suffolk which does have some rather nice countryside. I started out along NCN51 before heading towards Six Mile Bottom and beyond before a bit of wiggling around and then turning back at Cowlinge and finding my way to Newmarket before "catching" NCN51 back to Cambridge.

Here is the BikeRouteToaster (BRT) link, the route is around 73Km/ 45 miles in length with some hillier bits around the middle, reaching 116m above sea level, the Suffolk area is a bit lumpier that the flatlands - but not badly so. It is rolling countryside which, for choice, I find to be the most pleasant of cycling terrain. The route takes "C" road out and under the A11. It is a fairly straight road but with one or two deceptive curves so except cars to whizz by, generally though they can see you and give room when over-taking. It is not a road I would be quite so happy about cycling in the dark though. On the way you pass Little Wilbraham, which from the introductory sentence on Wikipedia sounds a rather forlorn place with no employment in the village - surely the pub employs people? (The Hole in the Wall!).

Cambridge Cowlinge LoopAnnt.jpg

On reaching Six Mile Bottom you cross both a main road (A1304) and the Cambridge to Ipswich Railway line, I can't remember being held up by the level crossing ever though - it is not the busiest of lines. There was a station in Six Mile Bottom, but it is now a private residence. Given how busy the traffic is on the A14 it surprises me that more is not made of this particular rail link into Cambridge - it seems to be used by students going to Long Road and Hills Road 6th Form Colleges. I think part of the problem is that Cambridge Station doesn't have the capacity for more trains around the rush hour periods.

I like the church in Six Mile Bottom - St George's Church, this is a yew tree (I think, but did not really go up to it and check, it might be some form of Larch?) in the churchyard.


Here is the Church, it was built in 1933 and "commissioned and largely paid for by the aristocratic Hall family" as a parting gift. It cost £3,700 to build and the architects' fees were £250. On the first Sunday in September a special service is held and a picnic held after the service. There are some nice pictures on the link - I should have walked around the grounds a bit more. I didn't because it was already cold despite the blue sky. The temperature indication on my Speedo was around 1C. I try to maintain a reasonable pace in the cold - that makes it easier to stay warm. Once you get cold getting warm again is harder at any speed.


One irritation I suffer from (along with many others) is that my nose tends to run when I exercise in cold weather. So I always carry a hankie in my back cycling pocket which, not to put too fine a point on it, is generally sodden by the time I get home. Obvious though it may sound, I always carry a hankie except when I don't. My usual routine when I return from cycling was interrupted and the wet hankie was put in the laundry basket, but I forgot to put a clean one back. Usually I would have a spare in one of the other pieces of clothing I wear, but not this time.

I don't like having to blow my nose without a tissue or a hankie, but needs must, and as a cyclist it is a trick I have had to learn. Essentially you have to blow you nose and rather than catch the result in a tissue you arrange for it to spray over the road behind you. Now as you might imagine it is bad form if there is a cyclist right behind you, then you are expected to move out a little. You also have to consider cross-winds that can affect your aim. It does work and it means that you don't have to keep sniffing as you cycle, I find it a little rough on the nose though. I also find it better to use this technique whilst on the move to ensure good snot clearance (by which I mean you don't want it to blow back on you).

I did wonder whether I might find myself cycling through snow - although the clouds didn't look too big and threatening.


After Six Mile Bottom I kept heading East though Carlton (mains sewers coming), Great Bradley (in Suffolk) and Cowlinge (also in Suffolk). I did think about heading along Water Lane out of Great Bradley up to Kirtling Green, but the temperature on my Speedo was dropping as I cycled - down past 0.8C to 0.5C so I stuck with my original plan and started heading back once I'd reached Cowlinge, through Lidgate (Suffolk), a place worth having a better look around one summer day. I briefly joined the B1085 before turning off to Upend (Cambs), Broad Green and Saxon Street. This is most definitely Horse Racing territory with its proximity to Newmarket and there are quite a few Stud Farms along the route back to Newmarket.

By now I was a little surprised as the temperature had dropped to 0.1C but now seemed to be rising to 0.5C, although it was getting dark and certainly did not feel it was getting warmer. Actually I had misread my Speedo reading it was really -0.5C, yes it was getting colder.

As I cycled back the Newmarket I did stop a couple of times to catch the sun as it finally disappeared below the horizon.


The same picture but after adding the other two exposures to it. It loses a bit of the drama of the silhouette, but you can see the "race track" leading off behind the foreground trees.


The same silhouette in close-up - the sun was slipping away without much fuss today.


The HDR version of the same picture does not look that much different.


By the time I got to Newmarket (Suffolk) I was most definitely feeling the cold. By now my toes all felt a numb and my thumbs were also feeling the cold so I didn't hang around to see what sort of pictures I could take of the Christmas Decorations. In fact I paid so little attention to them that I didn't see them. I followed NCN51 back through Exning and then round the country lanes to the outskirts of Burwell. I did stop - partly to do a bit of foot stamping and swinging to get some warm blood back in my toes and also to take a picture of the trees against the clear sky. Just looking at the picture reminds me of how cold it felt. Although it was quite easy to get my thumbs warm again, and once warm they can be kept warm for a while with a small amount of maintenance - hand swinging. I did warm my toes up a bit, but my cycling boots are worn out so I was wearing a pair of thinner walking boot/trainers and with a thin sole on a metal pedal my foot very quickly went cold again.


Although I did take a few pictures in between stamping my feet - the same silhouette but more zoom.


After that it was a fairly fast ride back, straight from Burwell to Swaffham Prior, I didn't fancy the Reach detour, but for some reason did drop down through Swaffham Prior back to the NCN51 route. By now the temperature was -1C. I did a bit of foot swinging to stop my toes from abandoning ship but when I got home and took my boots off the toes were numb and I couldn't feel my indoor sandals with my toes as I slipped them on. Before having a bath I sat and uploaded my ride and pictures onto my computer. It is surprising how painful it is when your toes get their feeling back. Once they were Ok I then had a hot bath - it was wonderful. Cycling when cold is wonderful when you stop :-) But I must pay more attention to maintaining appendage temperature if you stop them going cold you can endure for longer.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Wintry Lodes Way Loop

Friday 26th, November: I buy my cycling kit off and on-line, as I like to support my local cycling shops, Ben Haywards and Chris's Bikes to name but two, which strangely seem to be on opposite sides of Cambridge. (I am thinking of BH's shop in Horningsea rather than in the middle of town.) Last year before my son and I went off to India I got my son some cycling clothing from BH and a helmet, which he wore despite the heat. But I don't really like shopping that much, even for bike-related stuff. As Winter approaches I have found that some of my warmer clothing has come to the end of its days. I can't really complain it is quite old, the elasticity has gone unfortunately. The trouble is buying clothing over the Internet can be a bit of a lottery as it is kind of tricky trying it on before buying.

I have ordered and received some new clothing now though, including some bib tights and fleece tops. I generally go for the layered approach and find a windproof top the best outer layer to maintain body temperature. The Bib tights are more comfortable (think dungarees for cyclists) than shorts/leggings but the downside is that stopping for a wee can be a bit tedious on a cold day and if it ain't cold I wear shorts. Unfortunately the Lycra look doesn't really suit me - but I'd rather be comfortable than not. Routine journeys in regular clothing are no problem but if I am going to sit on a saddle for hours I want to avoid chafing thank you very much. Having said that I do tend to use MTB shorts in the summer - they are both comfortable and practical (meaning pockets). I don't cycle fast enough to worry too much about streamlining. (And yes I have tried on my new stuff to make sure it does fit!)

I have also got myself an early Christmas Present, a more powerful light. Actually I have two reasons for the new light, it is more powerful, which is good for mud and rubble strewn country lanes and the battery life is longer, which is good for longer rides in the evening. One of the other reasons a powerful light is a good thing at night on country lanes is that I have noticed that some oncoming motor vehicles don't slow down for cyclists. well with a brighter light they can't tell what sort of vehicle you are - they just see a bright light and do slow down. I guess I must be getting old, well old enough to want to invest more in self-preservation!

Although there are certain routes I tend to favour more than others, I do like to vary even the favoured routes a little. When cycling to St Ives there are several variations on NCN51 and when cycling to and from Wicken Fen the new Lodes Way route has also opened up a few variations. Sometimes when cycling out to Lode via NCN51 instead of taking the road direct from Bottisham to Lode I carry on up NCN51 to Swaffham Bulbeck and then back down the shared-use path to Lode. It adds a bit of distance, but goes along what I think is a nicer route. Mind you I don't really like the noisy Long Meadow Road, between Long Meadow and Lode, but at least there is a shared-use cycle path which although not that wide doesn't seem to have much pedestrian traffic along it.

The new traffic light controlled-crossing can be seen and white van man seems to have also taken up residence on the pavement, in force - perhaps that is why there aren't many pedestrians they are all stuck behind the van. I think that the issue is really that the road is unpleasant to walk along because the traffic is fast and noisy.


After Lode instead of cycling into White Fen I carried along the byway to the bottom (not far) where there was a huge pile of sugar beet which has been transported off over the last week or so. This is the field at the bottom of the byway which is known as Swaffham Poor's Fen, to the right side anyway. The byway turns into a footpath (on the edge by the hedgerow) and carries on down to Docking Droveway before reaching Longmeadow.


This is the byway, looking back to the entrance to White Fen - the wooden fence to the right hand side of the "road". The lorries have certainly made their mark(s) on this track with huge tyre ruts alongside the track - one good thing though - there isn't that much mud on the road. It does highlight the damage that a fully laden lorry can do to a track though.


I did take a picture of the pools just before Swaffham Bulbeck Lode Bridge - well one of them. It was frozen over. As you can see this part of the world is an important route for elec-trickery - there are two sets of pylons - it must be to supply all the "Stereos" in Cambridge.


The other side of White Fen and the roads have had some verge work done. This is Headlake drove and heads towards a crossroads, with left to Upware and Lodes Way straight on. I go left and then come back along Lodes Way usually. This time was the same. For ages, well since the road repairs, there have been traffic cones alongside the road where the larger undulations were filled in. The cones have now gone and the ground along each side has been roughed up a bit. I think that it might have been raised up a bit as well, but am not sure.


I don't take pictures of every beet clamp I see, it would half my average speed as there seem to be loads (or should that be lodes!) all around. The clamps help to store the sugar beet so that it is in good condition for later delivery. Apparently if the beet freezes and defrosts then complex carbohydrates are produced that cause "severe production problems". The track alongside leads to Spinney Abbey Farm (after a dogleg left).

Upware road sugar beet.jpg

The village of Wicken is the turning point for this ride, unless I feel like going a bit further when I head across some byways and bridleways to Soham. The track in past the Car park and Visitor Centre at the Wicken Fen Reserve has been a bit beaten up recently. Its width was reduced to make room for a temporary metal road and all non-construction users ended up on a narrow strip which quickly got churned up. The metal road has been removed and what is left is this - the metal track was on the right - the route of NCN11 is in the middle. This bit of path does not get a lot of sun in the winter and it can get fairly iced up and remain so for quite a time.


This is the channel that was cut as part of the new Windpump work - it feeds from Monk's Lode round the corner. There is a large concrete pipe buried there as well.


Depending upon the time (of day and year) I regularly find myself stopping on NCN11 by Monk's Lode to take pictures looking in the direction of Baker's Fen at the sunset. This is how it looked on Friday. Although my eyes could see a bit more of the vegetation.


This is not quite the same shot, a different framing, but similar - only made up of 7 pictures with different exposures. This makes the scene seem a little brighter than what I see with the naked eye.


As it was Friday I added in the loop from Wicken to Burwell and then back up Newnham Drove to Lodes Way. As mentioned by MikeC there is some work taking place on the drove near the Lodes Way end. This picture is taken after I scrambled over the rubble and under the digger and had to fling my bike over the trench. The bushes to the right had been flailed and I was a bit worried that there might be thorns about - but, touch wood, no punctures so far. There was not quite enough room under the bucket as I clambered through so he lifted the bucket a bit more for me - before I reached it. (Not that I could swear in a court of law that it was a male operator though.)


I did see a couple of deer running from me on the Burwell Fen part of Lodes Way - they didn't run far before stopping to see whether I was a real threat or not.

Then it was time for a fairly swift cycle home to avoid being caught out too long after the sun had fallen - it as due to get pretty cold. There was time to stop and take this picture along Commissioners' Drain at the end of Split Drove. though.


The other problem I had was that my GPS started reporting memory full errors. Fortunately it did store the entire ride - but when viewed as an attached memory on my computer it reported 375Mb free out of 485Mb. It might be a problem associated with the way I store my maps. With the Map of the UK (for downloading onto the GPS) I bought you have the option of downloading chunks of the UK, they roughly correspond to sheets on a 50K map. However I wanted to be able to pop up anywhere (in the UK) without worrying whether I had pre-loaded that particular area or not.

So I downloaded the whole lot and stored it on the GPS, not on the main memory but in optional memory card. This means my memory card has only 267Mb of 1.89Gb free. I can only assume that the GPS uses some of the main flash storage for some sort of working memory which is why it reports being full when it isn't. (Because it is when it is working). Anyway I have deleted all the history stored on the Garmin Edge 605 and I will see how it goes. One of the good things is it takes almost no time to download a new run onto my computer. (It slows down with each additional cycle ride stored.) I do have all the cycle rides that I have tracked stored on my desktop computer.

I also seem to be having "low battery" message on my Speedo - I'll see what happens over the next few days and before replacing the battery I will check the battery voltages on the old and new batteries to see if I can work out what is happening.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Winter's Tale - cycling from Cambridge to Kings Lynn Part 2

I have put a picture of the BRT map of my ride from Cambridge to King's Lynn in the Post just to make it easy to refer to (along with the link). I also realised that I had not put in a link into Part 1 of the Post so I have gone back and added it.

Yesterday was one of those days when you find out the truth behind the statement "too many gadgets". My desktop computer was playing up. I had to take some pictures and send them off to a friend - easier said than done. My all-in-one card reader, bought in Bangkok, when on my Bangkok to Saigon cycle tour, was not recognised. Further investigation suggested a reboot - but not before I had started a software update (for Internet Explorer - which I don't use!). The update went on forever, or should that be for-never and my computer would not shut down which meant holding down the on-off button.

Once the machine had re-booted on the second go when I logged in it couldn't find my set up, so none of my files were available. I logged off and on again and it seemed to be OK. Then when editing yesterday's Post and listening to the radio (via the Internet) there was a strange scratch like noise and the audio stopped - then other things stopped working. So I rebooted it again and although this time around it was fine I ran a series of data backups (and Synctoy). A search of the error logs show the results of the problem (failure to re-boot etc) but did not really highlight any particular cause. So this weekend I will run some checks on the disk, make a full system back up and have a look at maybe adding a new boot hard-disk into the machine.

I was also worried that it would cause problems with my draft Posts as I had uploaded the pictures for Part 1 and Part 2 ahead of writing the words and sometimes the pictures then have problems! Fortunately the Posts seemed to be ok - oops spoke too soon, this post re-uploaded several pictures.

So far we have not had any snow, but we have had a bit of ice. So it was good to hear that Cambridge County Council is prepared with a Quad bike de-icer to keep the important cycle paths and foot paths clear over the winter.

The railways have also been in the news with the Railways to get £8bn investment - which sounds a lot but it seems that fares will go up immediately and improvements in some areas will be around in a couple of years time. The good news for this region is that upgrade to Anglia's rail freight route has been approved. The work will be completed by 2014 and will "take 750,000 lorries off Britain's roads by 2030". (A slightly ambiguous statement is that total, per year...) It also appears that the the conflict between motor traffic and the railways got more up close and personal - Car on train line stops National Express services. A car skidded onto the railway line near Kennett and affected services between Ely and Ipswich.

And finally, well before getting back to the real subject of the Post - Work is started on bike lane project. The new cycle lanes are being painted on Gilbert road, although the yellow lines to prevent parking will painted after Christmas. Actually there was one other item that my attention was directed to by a Post by Freewheeler of Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest, cycling casualties there have hit a five year high. There were 93 bicycle casualties in 2009 compared with 65 in 2008 - whilst pedestrian, motorcyclist and car drivers casualties fell in the same period. He is right, it really must be Crap cycling there.

So back to the matter in hand - the last Post finished near Welney.

Cambridge to Kings Lynn.JPG

The NCN11 route is only on the A1101 briefly before turning onto an unnamed country lane which passes Welney Nature Reserve. The address for the Wetland Centre appears to be Hundred Foot bank - so there you have it - not unnamed after all. The road then jinks East towards Ten Mile Bank, but there is a track, marked as a bridleway that carries straight on and meets the NCN11 at Denver Sluice that looks shorter - so I must give it a go when the weather is a little drier.

All along the roads around here are longs piles of sugar beet that has been recently harvested and are presumably awaiting pickup for transportation to the nearby Sugar Factor - Wissington. I was thinking of measuring the total length of all the piles of sugar beet along this road - but lost track looking around - there were several of this length though.


Welney Wetland Centre has buildings on one side of the road and a huge bridge across the river to the washes. Here it is seen from near the pile of Sugar beet. The visitor information page of the centre does provide a phone number for the floodline - just in case.


Ten Mile Bank is a small settlement along three limbs of the cross roads with the fourth limb a bridge over the River Great Ouse. This picture is taken from Ten Mile Bank looking along the bridge over the river towards Southery. The smoke (or moist air?) in the background is rising from the Wissington Sugar Factory I think.


This is the view down river. The geese can get aggressive. I have had them come hissing at me when sitting on a seat just to out of shot on the right of the picture. It could have been the jelly babies they were attracted by.


Talking of jelly babies I did open my packet and scoff a few - can't afford to bonk especially on such a cold day.This crossroads is also a confluence of several cycle routes including NCN11, Regional Route 30 and the Southern Loop of the Fens Cycleway. You know what, I even occasionally see other cyclists along here as well! So "X" marks the spot. For a while I had noticed a clunking sound which I thought was something in my rack pack banging around - it wasn't. The rear mudguard had divided into two pieces and the rear piece was bouncing around on its stays. I had two choices leave it or take it off and abandon it (in a suitable waste bin obviously.) I figured it would probably not get jammed in my rear wheel so I left it in place - at least I would get some protection from mud being thrown up. All these rough tracks do take their toll on a push bike.


Another view towards the Wissington Factory - which I took to note the name of the road - Modney Bridge Road. A quick web search showed that there is an airstrip near Southery with a company called ST Aviation with facilities there.


Further up the road on the way to Denver Sluice another railway line crosses the River Great Ouse. This the King's Lynn to Cambridge railway line. As you can see it is an electrified line (done in 1992). When I catch the train back, if I am not feeling too weary I try to compare the lie of the land from the train with the way it looks when cycling.


After passing through Downham Market, actually that should be after wiggling through, the NCN11 route goes around the houses (and a school and Tescos) the route passes through a few Norfolk villages, most large enough to have a shop or two - which is good for emergency rations. (There are some bridleways around Wimbotsham that look to be worth exploring next time I am up there.) NCN11 then joins up with NCN1 for the rest of the route into King's Lynn. The route goes "off-road" around King's Lynn Power station, seen here from the east side and follows the river into King's Lynn. (The Streetmap OS shows the old routing for NCN11 to the West of the Power Station.)


The route passes under the A17 and then a smaller road seen here passing over the river. The bridge appears to be called Free Bridge on the OS Map.


This river is tidal (I assume) it certainly looks it from the green growth around the concrete pillars.


Further along the cycleway I took this picture looking back. Despite my fears that there might be snow in the cloudy skies I had been lucky so far.


In common with other cycling and walking routes there are some quirky wooden statues - which are I assume, depicting smugglers. I am struggling to find any reference on the Internet though.


On the way in through King's Lynn I have passed this old brick "gate" many times and wanted to take an uncluttered picture, normally there are cars parked around it. This time it seems that a new road is being build, just to the left and there were no cars - so here it is - the Carmelite Arch, a remnant of the time when Carmelite Friars lived in the area.


When I reached the station I was in no doubt, I got a ticket to Cambridge (£8.40) rather than Ely. You don't realise it but riding on a cold day takes it out of you - you need to burn extra energy to generate some warmth. I also got a freshly made sausage sandwich at the Station cafe - it was delicious. The train also arrived as my sandwich was being made so I was able to settle in the warmth and have a late lunch with a few jelly babies for dessert.

It was a real struggle to stay awake on the journey back to Cambridge and it would have been quite pleasant getting off at Waterbeach and cycling alongside the Cam back into the city. There are no special areas for bikes on the train, so you have to park you bike in a doorway. Fortunately all the stations are on the left side of the train until you get to Cambridge so you don't have to keep moving your bike. A few more bikes (and their riders) got on at Ely - most of them were school children on their way home. My rear light did turn on at one point as the train went over a bump. I had my eyes half closed and wondered why there was a red flashing light - until I realised it was mine.

I almost forgot to highlight the other irritation - no drying space on trains! It is my fault really, I had a headband and hat on for my cycle ride and both were wet with sweat when I reached King's Lynn, the trouble is they don't have enough time to dry out on the journey home and it is pretty horrible putting on a wet hat even for the short ride home (I left the sweatband off).

When I got back to Cambridge I did see a few flakes of snow (or lumpy bits of rain) but nothing serious. I also seem to be having problems with my new Speedo, despite replacing both the Speedo and Sensor batteries it keeps on reporting low battery levels. I must get around to sending off a query to the manufacturers. When I got home I was surprised how weary I felt, a combination of the slightly longer cycle ride and the cold weather I suppose.

A Winter's Tale - cycling from Cambridge to Kings Lynn Part 1

After a few day's of inactivity - well cycling-inactivity and promises of snow from the forecasters I decided to take advantage of Wednesday's fine and clear weather to get a longer ride in. I haven't been up to King's Lynn for a while so that was to be my destination. Although I must first just get a few News snippets out of the way. It turns out with the change in funding Speed Cameras some County Councils have decommissioned their Speed Cameras - Oxford is one such county. Well in what must be a surprise to no-one speeding soars by 400% following the switch-off. Fortunately Thames Valley Police has stepped in to fund the service using fines and fees. The article does go on to say that switching off all the speed cameras could lead to 800 extra deaths on the roads (a year I presume)!

Which leads on to who causes accidents, research in Australia indicates that motorists "are at fault in majority of cycling accidents". The study used video cameras to monitor cyclist activity over a period of time and found that in 87% of "events" the motorists were judged to be at fault. Now the sample size was limited and carrying around a video camera was bound to have some effect on the cyclist behaviour - but it does not surprise me when compared with my own experiences of bicycle/motor vehicle interaction.

It also turns out that some of the places I cycle are more than they seem (to me anyway). Apparently Over has a "swingers" club that is being taken to court. Perhaps that is why the route from the CGB cycle path through to Over is not quite good as some of the other villages along the CGB. I do occasionally see some odd sights when cycling around (normally off-road) but I have not seen Cambridge Student Charlotte making history. However the good news is that they did cycle to their photo-shoot. I once cycled past a man carrying his trousers whilst walking along a path (in the country), I mumbled good afternoon but did not pay attention to what else he might or might not have been wearing.

Back to the cycle ride. I was originally intending to cycle to King's Lynn and then catch the train back to Ely and then cycle back from Ely to Cambridge. About two -thirds of my way to King's Lynn I had a change of plan I made it easier for myself by catching the train back to Cambridge. There were good reasons - mainly huge gloops of mud on NCN11 between Barway and Wicken Fen which I would have had to cycle on in the dark. Thinking about it I could/should have got off the train at Waterbeach and had a pleasant cycle back down alongside the Cam on the spare bit of NCN11 that goes "nowhere". The trouble is I did not think about it until I had bought my ticket and was on the train and my Scottish heritage would not allow me to waste the money I had spent on the ticket.

There are a variety of routes I take when heading up to King's Lynn, this time around I took NCN11, pretty much as is, after leaving NCN51 at Bottisham to head out onto Lodes Way. The OSM Cycle Map shows the old NCN11 route as going past the King's Lynn Power Station along a road to the east. The NCN11 route that is signed on the ground and appears on the OS Map (and the Sustrans Map) goes "off-road" along a tarmac path to the West of the Power Station alongside the River Great Ouse. (Note I am not complaining about the great job done by the people who contribute to and compile the OSM Cycle map - I use it all the time.)

So if you do what I did the length of the ride is just about 100Km / 60+ miles, the BikeRouteToaster summary indicates it is 98.75Km, but my distance includes a couple of very minor detours. The other good (or bad if you like hills) thing about the ride is that it is pretty flat. There are some very minor hills and the only climbs you will even notice are getting up to Ely and into Little Downham and even then the maximum altitude is only 34m above sea level. The other great thing is that the ride is pretty much on quiet country roads or off-road. Very little of it is even on B roads and I think there is only 1.6Km/ 1mile on an A road (A1101 near Welney).

There are quite a few ways to change the ride, I sometimes cycle through Littleport (two ways) and then up Ten Mile Bank. There appears to be a way to avoid the detour to Ten Mile bank, so next time I might try carrying on up the New Bedford River along a bridleway to Downham Market. I also don't take the most direct route to the station through King's Lynn. The reason for this is I when I first cycled to King's Lynn the route was not fully signed and I found my own way through which I quite like, so I stick to it.

UPDATE: The BikeRouteToaster Link for this route: Cambridge to King's Lynn.

Cambridge to Kings Lynn.JPG

When I set off I didn't think there was any wind, but since wind is sometimes in the mind when cycling I did convince myself that the wind was slightly against me but not directly so. Since I had some distance to cover and I have taken quite a few pictures closer to Cambridge recently I wasn't planning to stop much. However as I have a bee in my bonnet about posts in the middle of cycle (and walking and horse riding tracks) I did think I might take pictures over every barrier on the way to King's Lynn, such as this one on Swaffham Bulbeck Lode Bridge. As I like cycling at night in the countryside, away from the "beaten track" I guess I am more sensitive about this than many other people - but I would like to see reflective tape on all barriers like this.


When I reached Reach Lode bridge I realised I had passed another such post without thinking, and life was too short to go back. Its funny stopping and starting is fine, but turning back is something I tend not to like doing on my bike. There was a "warning" notice though. The Wicken Fen people are quite good at being pro-active with information. (Perhaps that is MikeC's doing?)


This is the problem - there has always been a bit of a lip between the bridge and the ramp up to the bridge. And let's face it for us flatlanders this isn't just a bridge it is a hill! It would seem that the lip has incurred a bit of damage. To tell the truth I did stop to take the picture but I cycled over the lip. If you don't tell I won't. At the moment Split Drove (lots of gloopy mud) is much trickier than this one slightly stepped edge.


Just after taking the picture I noticed a bird of prey hovering quite high in the air waiting to swoop on some unsuspecting mid-morning snack. It gave up in the end. My bird recognition skills have never been much good. As I have mentioned before in my rural Primary School - two classes total 60 kids- we had lots of flower and plant tests - but we never did talk about birds much, or the bees for that matter!


Whilst coming down from the hill bridge I did notice that the pole the other side has got some reflective tape on it - so it was only fair that I took a picture in recognition of someone's work. Thank you to who ever did it.


My Speedo, which also has a thermometer was showing around 7C which was fine whilst cycling. I had four layers on top, plus a headband and hat and leggings and was generating enough heat to keep me warm, as long as I didn't hang around too much taking pictures. Since there has been a bridge theme to my pictures I stopped and took a picture of Burwell Lode from the footbridge.


Whilst on the bridge I also took a picture of what was a weak wintry sun and grey cloudy skies - whilst I like cycling on snow I didn't fancy the idea of cycling another 50 miles in falling snow. (If you are interested this is a panorama picture made up of two pictures and so is the picture after it.)

Burwell Fen.jpg

There has been metal tracking alongside NCN11 from the entrance down to the site of the new windpump in Wicken Fen, or rather the site of the Windpump work. I am not sure where the Windpump will go. The metal tracking was to avoid the heavier machinery chewing up the grass on its way to the construction area. The path is now back to "normal".

Wicken Fen Windpump work.jpg

Although the route is on country roads at this time of year the farmers are pretty busy, in some cases harvesting sugar beet to avoid it getting damaged by the frosts - which seem to be upon us actually. So quite a few tractors and trailers were using the Lower Road/Lower Drove between Wicken and Padney. I tended to get out of their way - they had a job to do and they always waved their thanks. What it did mean though was that the road was very, very muddy. The peat-mud is also very slippery and I found my rear wheel spinning if I tried to pedal too hard. The muddy bit wasn't too far, but I did wonder how this was going to be in the dark.

I did stop to admire this field which had been nicely tilled, Ely Cathedral is on the horizon to the left. I took the picture whilst standing next to the Pumping Station on Soham Lode.

View from NCN11 Near Ely.jpg

Cycling through Ely wasn't bad, although there looked to be a lot of cars on the road (Stuntney Causeway) heading to the railway bridge/level crossing. In fact I was surprised how congested the road was in the middle of the day. The town itself was not too bad (on a bicycle) and I followed NCN11 over the hill and out the other side and onto the Downham Road. You have to cross the A10 Ely bypass, which can sometimes be a bit unpleasant, but was not a problem this time around. NCN11 then heads up through Little Downham and back down the other side to Pymoor where it then heads along some straight roads to meet up with and run alongside the New Bedford River (aka Hundred Foot Drain).


That was the railway bridge over the road, this is the same railway line bridge over the Hundred Foot Drain, the 1940s OS map shows it as the Ely and Peterborough Branch. This area is also known as the Hundred Foot Washes.

Railway Bridge alongside Wash Road near Welney Reserve.jpg

To the right of the railway line you can see more clearly how extensive the washes are. The photographs above and below are composites of two pictures in each case.

Welney Wash.jpg

This picture combines the previous two pictures into one picture (and hence made up of four pictures) to give a sense of scale. I quite like the train journey - this is the route I take when travelling up to Manchester sometimes. (There are alternatives but this is perhaps the most pleasant. You can get to Manchester Oxford Road Railway Station with only one change at Ely from Cambridge. The New Bedford River is of course straight. The bend is only introduced by the way in which the pictures get combined.

Railway Suspenson Bridge Welney.jpg

By this point although I was enjoying my ride, one of my longer ones of late it was getting colder, less than 5C. So I think it was around here that I changed my plans and decided to catch the train back from King's Lynn to Cambridge. It knocks around 30Km/20miles off the journey, but more importantly misses out the two muddiest stretches of the route, stretches I was not really looking forward to in the dark when I was tired.