Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Lodes Way is not paved but has some good intentions!

Wednesday, 15th December: I've said it once and I'll say it again I am impressed with the way our County (Cambridge) keeps on top of the problem of fly-tipping. No sooner had I seen a load of dumped corrugated asbestos roofing on the Low Fen Drove Way bridge over the A14 than an article appears in the Cambridge News - "Hunt for fly-tippers who blocked A14 bridge". It was discovered on the 9th December, before I cycled over the bridge and blogged about it. According to the news report offenders can receive an unlimited fine or a five year jail term. (I assume that is up to five years.) Just to remind you what it looked like here is my picture from the 11th December 2010. The rubbish joins previously fly-tipped rubbish from earlier.

I had a social lunch planned with friends today (Wednesday) and because it is Christmas we chose the Dyke's End at Reach. It is just the sort of pub you want to be in on a Winter's day with a log fire blazing and instructions to the people sitting closest to it to stick logs on the fire as and when needed. As I have not been out cycling as much as I would like recently I planned on cycling up to Ely along NCN51/Lodes Way/NCN11 and then back to Reach and then heading back to Cambridge after lunch. Unfortunately I ended up leaving the house 30 minutes later than I had planned (in order to cover the distance comfortably).

I was both a little late sending emails and since I was going to be sitting with other people I had to dig out some clean and warm cycling clothes. It is not really the done thing to subject others to stale sweaty smells when having lunch with them. In the end I put on some of the new cycling clothing I had bought after finding two pairs of leggings with holes in them. I threw the worn out togs away.

I also topped up my MP3 player with some Radio podcasts to listen to as I cycled - none of the little jobs took long it is just they all added up.

By the time I had gotten ready I was really looking forward to a pleasant ride and then my wife returned with the news that it was raining. Arghh - the last straw. In the end I decided it wasn't bad enough to put on waterproof leggings but I did wear a different jacket. It was quite a relief to be on my way - the way out of Cambridge on NCN51 is on decent paved path Once I had reached White Fen (the start of Lodes Way) it was a different matter. There is a lot of agricultural work going on at the moment with beet harvesting, ditch mending and ploughing and drilling. This all means that the country lanes tend to get covered in black, peaty mud. At the point along Lodes Way where Headlake Drove meets Split Drove the road users are farmers and cyclists. This is what Headlake Drove looked like, looking back from where I had cycled. The mud tends to disguise the ruts and rocks as well so every now and then instead of squelching through a lump of mud the wheel jolts as you go over a rock.


The view along Split Drove towards the Reach Lode Bridge was no better - there is some ditching work take place a bit further along. You can't really blame the farmers they have got work to do. They do clean the roads from time to time, in fact back the way I had come a tractor was dragging a rotating brush behind it on the more main part of Headlake Drove between Swaffham Prior and Upware.


My bike waited patiently on the remains of the fencing on the bridge over Commissioners' drain. The bridges were built a while ago when farm machinery was not quite so large, nowadays it must be quite a challenge getting around the country lanes. This is Headlake Drove where it continues up to Rand Drove (a peat byway) Split Drove is to the right.


The point where Split Drove ends and it crosses Straight Drove is even worse. I find the best thing to do is build up some momentum and pick a line through the mud ruts and just keep pedalling. When I got to Reach lode Bridge the large ridge appearing between the bridge and the ramp had been filled. It looks as if a vehicle of some sort has been over the bridge, although the width between the tyre tracks is not great.


As I was cycling along the Fen part of Lodes Way there was another snag with my planning. The track seems to have gotten quite soggy and whilst being perfectly cycle-able is also much, much harder work. In fact I reckon it slowed my already slow speed down by around 20%. I know it sounds like I am moaning, and maybe I am, however it is very noticeable and on a journey from Cambridge to Ely has quite an impact on the timing. (Well on my journey it did anyway anyway.)

The other challenge faced by the NT is one of theft. One of the rather nice wooden benched placed along the route has been stolen. In fact the one that was here, near where Newnham Drove meets Lodes Way. There even appears to be a rut where it was dragged away. I just hope it breaks the suspension of the vehicle used to steal it. (Actually it was MikeC who pointed this out to me - I might have gone past it without noticing as I did the other night!)


After several hours (alright a slight exaggeration) I finally reached the bridge over Burwell Lode and hauled my bike over - the wheels were so muddy they skidded down the channels on the steps designed to help lug bikes over. The track through Wicken Fen is somewhat firmer and I found myself speeding up a little until reached in the bit near the Ticket office for Wicken Fen. At this point I finally gave up on the plan to reach Ely before turning back and decided to cycle up NCN11 until 12 noon before turning around to get back to the Pub for 12.30pm. I reached Padney and although this road is also heavily used by farm vehicles it was pretty much clear of mud it must have been cleaned since the last time I ventured this way.

I did stop to take a picture of this plough resting after the hard work of ploughing the field to the left. I think the track meets Sealodes Road and will get you to Soham Drove after passing Wet Sealodes and Dry Sealodes.


Instead of cycling along Lodes Way I took the roads down through Burwell to Reach instead, it was quicker and easier. As it happened I got to the pub early, in fact our table was booked for 12.45, if it had been 12.30 I would have been slightly late. Our table was near the fire so I put bits of sweaty clothing such as my hat to dry by the fire, I hate having to put on wet clothing when setting off, especially on a cold day. The lunch was excellent and it was a good chance to catch up. As a penance (actually no penance at all - I wanted to) I headed back towards Burwell and then up Newnham Drove to join the Lodes Way as a long-cut.

Newnham drove is pretty chewed up at the Lodes Way end and as luck would have it I got a front wheel puncture. Picture this, wheels clogged with mud, rain, wintry wind - the choice - stop and fix it or wobble home. For me it was no choice I wobbled home sitting as far back on the bike as I could to take the weight off the front wheel. I use Schwalbe Marathon plus tyres and they are pretty tough, so I figured as long as the tyre didn't roll of the rim it would still protect the rim and I would carry on. It didn't roll over - now I have to wash the bike and see what caused the puncture and fix it.

One other thing I noted is that my Speedo just worked so I think that the new front light must be jamming it - I will try moving the light a little further along the handlebars (after doing the puncture and sorting out the mudguards!)

When crossing the new Lode Pedestrian crossing (it was busy there were quite a few cars) there was a police car with siren on and lights flashing - it seemed to "provoke" some really bad driving from a lorry driver who seemed to try and block the police car's progress rather than get out of its way. The Police drivers must get used to it I guess. I can't say it fills me with confidence as a cyclist road-user when I see such little awareness from drivers. If they can't see a police car with blue lights and siren then what hope is there that they will see me?


  1. The vehicle going over the bridge could have been a horse & cart, of which there are quite a few in the area. On the recent snow I was the first person to go down Hurdle hall Drove, and was quite surprised to find a horse & trap coming the other way. So was the horse!

    The owners of carts who want to use the Lodes Way bridges can ask for the combination for the locks on the bollards from the NT at the Wicken Visitor Centre.

  2. That makes sense, it is quite a steep bridge though - do they get out of the cart to get over the bridge?

  3. Will ask the Chairman of the local horse riding association for confirmation, but my understanding is that horses can get over a 1:3 slope pulling a light load. The bridge at about 1:15 should be no problem.

    For example: the "Cockup Bridge" over Wicken Lode is 1:3 (by measurement from photographs) and was made a bridleway a couple of years ago, and is certainly used by horses.

    The footbridge over Burwell Lode (1:1) has been used to take cattle over. Source: the farmer whose nameplate hangs out about half-way along Little Fen Drove. The cattle currently grazing Adventurer's Fen West (known to NT as Burwell Fen) are his. Don't think he took them over the footbridge this time though.

    Another example is the Packhorse Bridge in Moulton, Suffolk. Somewhat steeper than 1:10 I think. I might try to measure it next time I'm in Moulton.

  4. I'd forgotten the bridge at Moulton. It is quite impressive what a horse can climb up. I once went on a pony-trek up a rubble strewn track that would have been pretty tricky on my MTB. The horse didn't stumble at all - despite the novice in the saddle.