Sunday, March 27, 2011

A cycle lasso from Cambridge to Ely

Wednesday, 23rd March: There are days when you just have to get out and ride and since I haven’t been out for a few days and the weather is really picking up and becoming more Spring-like by the day I couldn’t resist finishing early and getting out into the fresh air.  Since I had not used my quota of “commuting time” I also had a few hours stored up. (I work from home and so can re-arrange my time flexibly.)

As it was a nice day I decided to head out for Prickwillow and check out the latest exhibition in the PhoneBoxGallery as I hadn’t been that way for a while and then to make a decent ride of it to head back via Isleham and Fordham.

The Bike Route Toaster link for the map below is here. The route is a little over 80Km/50 miles with no hills. It is a bit exposed, but today at least obeyed the rule of heading out against the wind and back with the wind. Although it wasn’t that windy really. The tracks and byways were all dry as well – and nothing fell of my bike this time.

There is a lot of planting taking place under the pylons in White Fen and it turns out to be a new Community Woodland.  Apparently 640 trees are being put in and East Cambridgeshire is one of the least wooded parts of England. I am a little surprised by the first point but not the second.  I imagine that the trees are not going to be tall trees otherwise it might cause a few problems with the  Electricity Pylons and cables overhead.  I can't actually find what they have planted, but they planted over 800 saplings on the 6th March 2011 and hope to plant a total of 2,000 trees. as for the second item, well it is flat and fertile around here so apart from trees to act as windbreaks I could imagine that in the past there would have been quite a lot of pressure to clear as much agricultural land as possible. 

Just as we might support the efforts to protect the rain forest in far off parts of the globe we should practice what we preach and both protect woodland and create more closer to home here in the UK.

A bit more research and the Swaffham Crier indicates that there will be Blackthorn, Wild Cherry and Hazel trees, all good sources of food. The same article also mentions that around 120 cyclists a week are cycling the whole route from Bottisham to Wicken and many more undertaking shorter circular routes.

It always amazes me how quickly the trees seem to switch from being dormant over the Winter springing back to life and leaf in Spring. It does tend to be the south-facing side of most trees that you see leaves on first though.  Here is Headlake drove after the Reach/Upware crossroads. There is more than a tinge of green now.

Just in case you don’t believe me and think that it is moss or lichen here are some buds with their leaves sprouting.

When the path was first put in there was not the fence on the left. The fence has been added because they want to be able to graze their herd of semi-wild Konik ponies far and wide around this area. If you follow the link there is a video showing a bit more information.  My guess is that it was put there to reassure “townies” that they aren’t suddenly going to be attacked by the wild ponies. The fences also make it easier for horse riders to avoid any issues.

The NT also have a herd of Highland cattle that also help to provide year-round grazing management of the Wicken Fen Vision land. After crossing the “footbridge” over Burwell Lode I passed them in the adjacent field. They reckon on 5 acres of land per animal to avoid over-grazing. The calves seem to be born in late January, so I assume this one is a couple of months old.

After Wicken Fen the Lodes Way ends, but the NCN11 route continues up country roads to Padney on what is a no-through road, but is used by agricultural vehicles so be aware.  The route then makes use of a permissive link to get through to Barway and then to an off-road section along the River Great Ouse. You will often see agricultural workers in the area as there is a Hostel in Barway where they live.

It is not surprising as there is a lot of agriculture in the fenland area as you can see here. In order to get a premium price newly planted fields have strips of plastic laid over them to act as a sort of greenhouse and accelerate the crop germination. That is Ely Cathedral in the background.

The route from Barway to Ely is off-road and  along farm tracks. As you can see here it seems to get a good bit of cycle use judging from the strip that is worn smooth in the middle. It is much easier and more efficient and so less tiring to cycle on a smooth surface rather than a gravelly surface.  So cyclists naturally gravitate to one track.  I would imagine that in general the traffic along here is tidal. Which is why one strip has been worn rather than two.

Speaking of other cyclists here is one now, cycling home from work I would guess. Part of the route has a tarmac path laid along the top of the bank alongside the River Great Ouse.

There is a footpath on the other side of the River Great Ouse, with bridges where channels feed into the River. There is not so much random mooring of boats along this stretch as there is in Cambridge.

Just over from the river is the Cambridge Ely railway line, which as you can see is electrified. No prizes for spotting Ely Cathedral there. I think that the Stained Glass Museum in the Cathedral is well worth a visit and has its own website.

The bank alongside the River is not that high but as the surrounding land is pretty flat it gives quite a good view.  It looks as if this field is being drilled.

I’ve just noticed that the BRT map shows a brief excursion up and back down a footpath where it crosses Stuntney Causeway, I didn’t really go up and back along the footpath. Stuntney is an adjacent village and like many of the villages and Ely is situated on one of the few hills in the area. Stuntney means Steep island apparently.

I noticed, what looks a bit like a report on the obvious, “Concern over queues at Ely level crossing”. Just up the road from where I cross there is a small bridge under the railway line, but it is too short for many vehicles which have to use a level crossing alongside.  Apparently the barriers are down for an average of 35 minutes per hour on a weekday (I assume that is a working hour) and the worst case scenario could see that barriers closed for up to 50 minutes.

In this Bing satellite view you can see lorries either side of the railway line, with a train in the station on the left.

Map picture

I skirted around Ely along Queen Adelaide Way and then onto the B1382 to Prickwillow to check out the latest Exhibition in the Phone Box Gallery. It turned out to be a Transport Exhibition by King’s Acremont Nursery. My first attempt at getting a picture also has my reflection in it, but there is a good (although unintentional) sense of motion.

This is my second attempt.

This is the phone box, with a convenient layby for visitors who wish to view the exhibition. The layby also has a kerb so that bicycles can be parked in the time-honoured tradition. And yes the phone box really does lean to the left. Structures seem to “float” in the Fens.

I back-tracked out of Prickwillow along the B1104 (the oddly named Putney Hill Road- hill what hill?) towards Isleham.  The road runs alongside the Black Wing Drain, which heads back towards the Prickwillow Drainage Engine Museum.

It seems odd the way farmers seem to leave random buildings lying around. I believe that farmers have different planning rules but they do sometimes seem to abandon their buildings.  Still there were a few nice daffodils around the shed.

Further down the road towards Isleham I rather liked the blossom on this may tree. (At least I think it is may blossom)  Farmers also leave mounds of earth around the place as well.  There were a few more random sheds along this road, but I didn’t bother taking pictures of all of them. The road also passes Botany Bay, although I suspect I had not passed through a time warp into Australia.

Approaching Isleham you are on the edge of breckland country, well it feels like it anyway.

There are a couple of streams the road passes over through Fordham, one is Soham Mere, which is all I noticed when cycling.  But on the OS map a bit further along it seems to be called the River Snail. Which is where Snailwell gets it name from I presume.

After a brief cycle along the B1102 I turned of at Ness Farm and took the byway into Burwell.  By now the wet mud was rock hard and imprinted with tractor tyre tread. It is very bumpy, but quite easy to cycle along.  No dabs were needed in the cycling into Burwell.

For a change instead of cycling along the Lodes Way I followed the NCN51 out of Burwell, through Reach and the Swaffhams. I stopped in Swaffham Prior to eat a few jelly babies and have a drink though.  The sunset was starting to get dramatic.

Swaffham Prior can boast two Churches and a water tower and although only one windmill is shown on the sign there are two.

You’ll be pleased to here that despite the bumpiness of the byway between Ness Farm and Burwell I had no further mishaps with my mudguards. Mind you I did check them whilst eating my scientifically proven cycling energy snack jelly babies.  The black plastic fitting allows the metal stays to be prised loose if a stick gets stuck.  In my case that Allen screw fell out on one occasion and on another the bolts near the mudguards dropped off.

Once again I had cycled in shorts and sandals and no socks, My legs are looking a bit pale – they need a bit more sun I think.  After a while these sandals give my feet a tiger stripe look. In case you were wondering (which I doubt) I don’t shave my legs – far too much kerfuffle

This is definitely the sort of cycling I like,  warm, sunny, but not too much of either, jelly babies for sustenance and in the main either quiet roads or byways and bridleways.  I forgot to mention I passed three ladies cycling up the NCN11 near Padney. They looked somewhat organised as they all had maroon tops. Two were in front though and the one bringing up the rear looked somewhat disgruntled. I don’t suppose I helped by sailing past. Probably the 10th law of cycling is that when you overtake a fellow cyclist, no matter how much effort it has taken to get past you sit up and make it look as if you are hardly trying!

Oh yes -  the trace of my route looks more like a lasso than a loop. 


  1. hello Jamie

    A pal at work saw me wandering aimlessly around with my camera and suggested I might like to look at your blog. Being an Ely resident was a definite hook too, and now I'm all book-marked up and ready to visit here regularly. Fabulous pictures, great narrative...



  2. Al, thanks for your kind words. Sorry I did not reply sooner - I am trying to catch up with my Posts. I get confused if the gap in time is too large.

    I do find that my Cycling blog with pictures is an ideal way tom combine my hobbies of cycling, photography and computing!