Monday, March 14, 2011

Byway to the danger zone

Saturday, 11th March: Firstly I’d better point out that there is not really any danger zone, I just couldn’t resist the title. For some reason the song was going through my head as I was cycling. It must have been an Earworm! There are byways though, when I set out I wasn’t quite sure where I was going, in the end I found myself heading out of Histon on a bridleway but it becomes a byway. For an explanation of the legal differences Wikipedia has, as you would expect, rights of way information. The paragraph on bridleways notes that cyclists are permitted to use them, but that “no obligations are created to facilitate the use of bridleways by cyclists”.  Legal niceties aside, the cycle-ability of these various rights of way is at best variable and can be dependent on the weather and the farming season.

The best way to find out is to explore when you have a bit of free time, which as I had some work to do on Sunday is what I decided to do on Saturday.  My plan became one of cycling out in the Aldreth direction and if it was fine to head over to St Ives and back via the high-quality cycle path otherwise known as the Cambridge Guided Busway or CGB for short. On the other hand if the highways and byways were too exhausting then I could take a short-cut to the CGB via one of the nearby villages such as Willingham.

Although this is not my first ride of the year by any means, I am still finding the bridleways quite hard work, which although I blame the soft bumpy grassy surface is more to do with my legs and this Yehuda Moon cartoon amused me.

As you can see from the map of my ride I did end up taking the longer way to St Ives and then returned on the CGB. As usual I have loaded the route onto Bike Route Toaster as well.  The distance is a shade under 58Km / 36 miles and is mainly off-road except for the bit from Earith to St Ives (apparently it was formerly known as Slepe).  It is also flat, with a minimum elevation of 2m and a maximum of 18m.

I headed out of Cambridge towards Histon I cycled along King’s Hedges Road. Whoever dreamt up the odd cycle-path routing on that road doesn’t seem to have been a cyclist.  As you head out the path switches back and forth from the pavement to the road.  It seems that it was designed to allow car parking along the road in places and to move the cyclists away from the Door Zone. I always stick to the road when cycling along here.  The Door zone is a problem so I leave space. I also find even dropped kerbs can be a problem  and in the past have fallen twice when trying to switch from a road to a shared-use path using a “dropped kerb”.

But enough of that, what I hadn’t realised is that there is an off-shoot of the CGB around Arbury Park or should that be Orchard Park.  This picture shows the CGB and shared-use cycle path as it approaches the Histon Road.  This is near the West Stop (pdf). From the looks of it the guided bit is one way as normally the “entrance” to the guided part of the track is slightly flared to make it easier for tired bus drivers to aim their buses into the right place. The CGB here also seems to be a mix of guided and un-guided areas. The Cambridge Busway map shows this as having two-way guided track though. I must have a closer look next time I head this way.

There is a shared-use cycle path into Histon and then the cycle path and pedestrian paths are segregated. The cycle bit also drops onto the road in places, but you cycle straight on rather than at an angle over dropped kerb. It is ok, but I would imagine that at night you would need to be careful you didn’t get mixed up between the pavement and the cycling area. Cyclists have to work to keep the bike moving, well I do anyway, sometimes I find I have to get into the zone and focus on pushing those pedals. So strange as it may seem I find my concentration is better when I am sitting driving a car than when cycling. In a car you are not expending effort and you have a responsibility to other road users. On a bike you have to work, so oddities in the cycle path layout are not welcome. Perhaps that is why I like the CGB cycle path.  It does not require much concentration being straight and you get plenty of warning of other path users.

On the way through Histon I passed the place where I got knocked off my bike and my collar bone was interrupted. Since that happened on a sunny almost Spring Saturday afternoon I did find myself paying far more attention to other road users this time around. Once bitten twice shy.

This is where I left the road system and headed out along the bridle- and byways. If it wasn’t for the helpful sign it looks more like a driveway to a house.  Be warned the chippings are deep and you have to work hard to keep momentum. This is not child-cyclist friendly. It doesn’t last for long though.

The Sign in close-up, it helpfully shows who might be using it and the distance to Rampton.  It does please me to see signs for bridleways showing cyclist symbols, it kind of makes you feel welcome.

Gun’s Lane, as it is called, is an ancient route that cuts across from Histon to Rampton and Willingham and up to Ely along the Aldreth Causeway. It seems to have survived the road-ification and consequently the wildlife is varied. The track is varied as well. By and large it is a green lane (as I think of them), in effect a green road with hedges either side.  In this case the surface varies from mud and grass to gravel and hard-core.

At this time of year the mud areas do get a bit rutted but I managed to cycle along it without dabbing my feet down by picking my tracks carefully.

There is a good view of the old Aircraft Hangars at Oakington Airfield. Somewhere in the middle is also the CGB route, so at some stage buses will be seen running up and down. This will be where the new town of Northstowe takes shape – 9,000 homes and 24,000 people – paying customers for the CGB. For a place that is yet to exist it seems to have a lot on the web about it – including a Wiki page.

As the path continues you cross the road between Oakington and Cottenham at Lamb’s Cross.  The path becomes a byway (called Rampton’s Drift) and you get some good views across the open countryside. There are not so many drainage ditches as you get in the fens – but there are a few.  This is Beck Brook with footpaths either side which head towards Giant’s Hill near Rampton.  Mind you I can’t quite place where I took this picture – it might be where the track and Beck first run alongside each other at Cuckoo Bridge and the lane changes its name to Cuckoo Lane. If it is then the picture is looking West and not towards Giant’s Hill

This part of the track is pretty good, with a fairly flat gravel surface.  This is the view from Cuckoo Bridge, but looking back the way I had come.

The view of Cuckoo Lane in the direction I was heading and with Beck brook alongside. Although that looks like a bridge over the beck it is the route of a large pipe. The track looks quite well used, with one line being worn flat.  I like to think this is because of all the cyclists.  Although I only passed four cyclists on this bit of the byway.

Before reaching Rampton I turned off Cuckoo Lane and down Reynold’ Drove (as it appears on the OS map) and then turning off along a reinstated right of way. Whilst looking for a link to the new bridleway I came across some of the comments to the Northstowe Outline Application December 2007. Apparently the application suggested that Reynolds Drove to Rampton be hard surfaced and the Country Council objected as an inappropriate urbanisation from a rights of way perspective. There is also mention of continuing agricultural access.  I do wonder if this is a method of keeping the number of “paths” that need maintenance down – however it does give some insight into the marginalisation and misunderstanding of cycling as means of transport. (In my view). With views like these it is hardly surprising that Over has such poor cycling-suitable links with the high-quality cycle paths along the CGB.

Also I have had a look at the Northstowe Area Footpath and Cycleway Network Project document (pdf) (as pointed  out by the Cottenham Cyclist in a comment – thanks). There is the suggestion that Reynolds Drove will be locally downgraded from byway to bridleway because of issues with the way in which it crosses the CGB. To be honest I am not quite sure what ended up there. The OS still shows it as a byway and so does the Cambridge County Council Rights of Way Map. The Northstowe document does refer to work to reinstate the path as a bridleway up to the Fox which is on the road halfway between Rampton and Willingham.

The interesting feature is that the path does look as if it has been around for a long time with an old gravelled/tarmac surface, but that it had just been forgotten. It is a good job that there has been activity to ensure old rights of way are not forgotten. The route I took went through to The Fox before heading out along a byway called Haven Drove. You almost seem to cycle through the garden of one of the houses there on the corner – but it is signed. The byway then crosses Irlam Drove and becomes The Causeway where it passes “though” Belsar’s Hill and on up to Aldreth.

The route seems to be well used by horse riders, I passed around 5 this time around and no cyclists.  There are some holes on the route though – so beware.

The Causeway passes one or two roads, including briefly joining this “farm track” which has been resurfaced since the last time I cycled this way.  Although it looks a bit rough and ready the surface has been quite well compacted and was easier to cycle along than the muddy rutted road it used to be.

The Causeway is clearly used by agricultural vehicles as you can see here – the water channel to the left is Willingham Drain. I ended up cycling through the large puddle to the right of the picture. I was stuck in a rut and either had to stop and lift my bike into another rut or plough on and hope for the best. It was ok, my feet didn’t get wet. I try not to make a habit of that sort of thing though. 

The Causeway becomes Aldreth Causeway and passes over the River Great Ouse. I often stop on the bridge to take pictures – this was the way I had come.

This is the view down the River great Ouse towards Ely. The woodland to the left of the picture is Nine Acre Wood (pdf) which was planted in 1995 on an arable field and is managed by the Woodland Trust. If you check out page 5 of the document there is a table indicating that amongst other things the wood does not have a car park and that it is not “well worth a visit”. Some interesting marketing – perhaps reverse psychology?

To the other side are the remnants of what is marked on the map as High Bridge Farm, so I guess the bridge was High Bridge. In the background you can see some of the houses of Aldreth.

I then headed along a network of roads and paths towards Earith, the first road being called The Boot. This was an interestingly ploughed and harrowed field I passed.

You can see from this picture of the North Fen Drain that quite a lot of soil leaches off the fields into the drains. I guess it is a combination of freshly ploughed fields and recent rain.

There is a bridge over the drain called Dam Bank Bridge – with the obligatory random agricultural buildings.

A bit further along – another random building, this one looks a bit scruffier.

The road Long Drove was quite bumpy, they seem to use slabs of concrete with ridges every 20m or so across the road. Later on tarmac is put on top but the ridges remain. As you cycle along there is a rhythmic thud, thud, thud as your hands get jarred.

I then headed out along a byway (Gravel Pit Drove) trying to stick to the smooth mud track to the left. This then becomes Upper Delph Grove and you find yourself in the middle of a farm – well two farms; New England Farm and Hermitage Farm. There was work going on as I passed – but they gave me space so they must be used to the odd cyclist passing through.

The track meets the least pleasant bit of the ride, the A1123, which is not too bad really, there are quite a few cars and vans, but the road has a few wiggles so I never felt that overtaking vehicles were whizzing by too closely. 

I did stop to take a picture of the Earith village sign, a place where ice-skating, weather permitting must be popular.

I detoured through Needingworth just to avoid the traffic but was soon back onto a motor-vehicle free route – the Cambridge Guided Busway.  I don’t suppose I’ll be able to say that for much longer. I did stop briefly and sat on one of the benches in the St Ives park and Ride car park to have a drink  Actually you can’t park or ride, it is locked and there are no buses. Then I set off home, head down and pedalled.  Although I did stop to take a picture of this powered hang glider passing overhead.  Normally by the time I stop and take a picture it is too late – but these things don’t move quite so quickly.

It was getting dark just as I was getting to Milton Road at this end of the CGB, good to see one of the CGB Bike parks in use though.

In all I saw around 80 cyclists over the afternoon, with 5 using the concrete tracks of the CGB and 2 using the high quality cycle path alongside it. the path up at the St Ives end is still flooded – who knows what will happen, why couldn’t it have been sorted whilst the bus track is not in action eh? I did have a couple of dog problems, well not with the dogs more the owners not understanding that if they walk on one side of a path and the dog is on the other with a lead in the middle  then despite my “excellent” bike handling skills I cannot bunny hop that high.


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