Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cycling from Cambridge to the Sunny Skies of Suffolk

Saturday 19th March: One of the fine things about cycling is that it provides some great thinking time.  If you are not having to focus on going fast and if the route you are taking is straightforward then you can put the cycling on “automatic” and think thoughts.  The converse is that on tricky roads, or noisy roads or highly convoluted cycle paths which bump on and off pavements or weave in and out of poles then you really ought to focus on the obstacle course.  Mind you the same is true on the more troublesome byways, I find I have to concentrate on picking a route and not getting stuck in a rut.

The only snag with thinking thoughts when cycling is those thoughts might seem strong at the time, but as new thoughts come along you (well I) forget the first ones.  Now I have considered some form of recording device. Years ago I sometimes uses to dictate letters into a small pocket recorder.  I never really mastered the art of dictation though and found it easier to use my laptop. On my computer I have large yellow electronic Sticky Notes (found under Accessories on my Window 7 computer) on which I keep lists. But bits of paper get soggy when cycling and pens runs.

In the days before GPS I did have a map holder for my bike, which was useful when I cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats, as the tour leader handed out a page of instructions for each day which we had to follow as we cycled along. It made it much easier not to get lost; trying to navigate from a list of turn right/turn left type instructions is fine until you make a mistake and then it can be really tricky to re-trace your “pedals” and find the mistake.

Why the ramble, well I also listen to Podcasts when cycling including the Bike Show on Resonance FM.  The current season has come to an end, but the programmes are all available on the website. I am a cyclist, not a racer, not a tourer, not a commuter, not a mountain bike; just a cyclist. My cycling takes a few forms (er except for the racing, but I watch the Tour de France). So I like radio programmes which have similar views and touch upon the many aspects of cycling.

On a similar note, I also read Cycling+, a monthly cycling magazine here in the UK. Is it me or has it become a little dry and racing focused.  Recently they’ve included a section listing details of loads of bicycles – a buyer’s guide.  The trouble is I pick up the magazine and think “oh good, a lot to read”. But the end comes before the end. I can’t help thinking it would be more ecologically sound to put the data on their website, perhaps with a monthly password in the magazine. That would save paper and yet protect their advertising revenues.

Whilst whittling on about stuff, I have just read “People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman” by Richard Lloyd Parry (currently a journalist for The Times in Japan). It is about a young girl who went to live in Japan and was murdered. I am not really into these sorts of real-life “murder stories”, but this was a sensitive account that gave an interesting insight into Japanese culture (with a small c) and the repercussions that such evil has upon the family and friends.  I have been to Japan many times (30-40) but still found it illuminating. There is also a Trust that was set up in Lucie’s name to promote education and safety for young people. I found myself not putting this book down.

I might as well talk about the music as well, I have eclectic tastes – my profile indicates that, but having just bought; Uffie “Sex, Dreams and Denim Jeans, Noah & The Whale “Last Night on Earth” and Avril Lavigne “Goodbye Lullaby I am enjoying them all.  I am still finding WE7.com a great website to listen to – the “radio” feature works well for me – all though it means I end up buying more CDs.

Back to Saturday, we got our chores sorted early and after a look at the map – I tend to use “Where’s The Path” as it shows an OS map alongside a satellite view I had found some new (for me) byways and bridleways to explore. I haven’t been out along the NCN51 towards Bury St Edmunds recently and noticed that there was a reasonable looking bridleway from Desning Hall (not much info there though, here is a tad more) to Dunstall Green and then another one to Hargrave Hall near Hargrave.  The route I took back was mainly to the north of the A14 with a few more off-road tracks thrown in for good luck. This was I think my longest ride of the year – 95Km/ 60miles, there are a few hills around Newmarket and Moulton but after that it is pretty flat and those hills aren’t very long.

The bridleways weren’t too bad, except for where I found myself cycling through the middle of a recently ploughed field and then more recently trampled by horses. It would probably have been easier to go around the edge – but it is easy to lose your way and I generally don’t program these small excursions into my GPS. That would take all the “exploring fun” out of it.  I did print out a map to look at though. My GPS has a pretty reasonable map of roads and contours, but not all the off-road paths.

Here is the BRT link for the map shown below.  As you can see I did have a little problem with my bike and had to stop to make some emergency repairs. More of that later. Here is another cycle ride in the area which follows some of the same route. – The Jockey Trail (a pdf – from Lodes to Gallops).

The route out towards Newmarket was the NCN51-light (or should that be lite?).  I cut out the Swaffham Bulbeck hill and the Reach detour. Mind you the weather was really nice – sun in the sky and not too warm. I was wearing leggings, but during the early afternoon they were not at all necessary. Whenever I pass this farm (Crownall Farm) on the Swaffham Road into Burwell I think it would make a lovely restoration project, it is also set in a lovely patch of ground. Unfortunately the proximity of the high-voltage pylons is not very encouraging.

I re-joined NCN51 at Burwell and followed it around to Exning, with a quick stop to take a picture of this power hang glider overhead. It is not so easy to see from this picture, but it is a two-seater. It can be seen in some air 2 air pictures at North Repps here.

There is a climb out of Newmarket (at around 40m elevation) along the Moulton Road up to 88m.  The fields either side of the road are using during the morning to exercise the many race horses found in Newmarket, apparently the birthplace and global centre of thoroughbred horse racing. According to the Wikipedia link (the 1st one) there are more than 2,500 horses in Newmarket and 15,000 people. This is the view back down the road towards Newmarket – this is one of the gallops.

The road drops down into Moulton, where the route crosses the River Kennet. There is a Ford sign, although I am not sure I have ever seen water flowing on the road here, it must run underneath.  Further up the village is another ford, useful for tyre-washing. To the left of the ford is the Moulton Packhorse bridge. There are pictures of the river in flood here – Jan 13, 2011 apparently. Moulton is at around 43m (above sea level) as you can see from the hill in the background there is a climb out of the village up to 92m – it is short and quite steep. Mind you with my Marin hybrid with 3x9 gears it is not to difficult to sit back and twiddle.

This was the bit I had cycled out here for, pastures new, well hopefully not too many pastures, more good mud tracks through some peaceful countryside. Initially it was a road out past a row of houses and another bridleway before I reached the Hall.  I have to say it felt more like cycling through a farmyard than past a hall, but I was paying more attention to where I was going I suppose. At one point as you enter the farmyard the signage is a little sparse. Still that is what exploring is all about. On passing through the farmyard I got a cheery hello from a chap washing a tractor, so they must get some bridleway users.

Then the path turned off from the farm road, which looking at the map seems to circle Dalham but does not appear as a right of way (the Farm road that is). In the field was a trig point which is marked on the map as at 103m.  That confirmed to me I was on the right track.

The bridleway was quite good, even on my hybrid bike.  The surface was solid, although those tractor tyre imprints can be a little unpleasant. They sap energy and cause a bit of a buzz on in your hands.

A little further along a footpath splits off from the bridleway. This heads through Denham Castle and looks as if it would be a pleasant walk as it circles a Motte and Bailey.

This was the direction I had come from along the track that runs along the strip of trees to the left of the picture. Desning Hall is behind the trees on the horizon in the middle of the picture.

The way forwards carried on around the edge of a field.  You aren’t always quite sure from looking at the map as to where the tracks go exactly. In this case it was fairly clear.  Again this track was not difficult to cycle along, perhaps a little springier but no hassle really. It was also lovely out in the middle of nowhere, not quite sure where I was going, under a blue sky.

The path reached this field. Now normally my inclination is to stick to the edge, but there was a route across the field marked by a tractor and hoof prints.  A look at the map confirmed that it was in the right direction – so I set off.  Next time I think I might stick to the hedgerow.  Having checked the route on my computer I did indeed follow the right of way, but when I got to the other side I seems that hedgerow route is used by some and although longer does join up. On this WTP link the path can be seen quite clearly on the satellite view.  Personally I would be happy to trade the farmer and instead of the direct route through accept a better maintained route around the edge. Although I suppose that the hedgerow might actually be more ecologically sensitive.

I managed to keep going across the field and didn’t have to stop, but it was hard work, there were some quite large hoof holes and once or twice they almost brought the bike to a dead stop.

The bridleway was fine again, a normal edge of field farm track which came out on the Denham Road. Actually come to think about it just as the track reached the road is was quite soft and there were quite a few hoof prints – but I got through it and it was pretty short. The path emerges just by this open barn, which I used to call a  Dutch barn although having read the Wikipedia article I am not so sure.

When I was a boy growing up in Somerset we lived next to an old farm, where eventually  (20plus years later) the farm buildings were turned into houses. There used to be on one of these barns up the track towards the fields. For a period of time an old (to me a the time – but probably fifty-ish) used to come by each year and pitch a tent under the barn and live there for a short while.  My Mum used to let him collect water and provided hot water for him as well.  In those days he would have been considered a gentleman of the road perhaps not quite a vagrant as he seemed to support himself without begging. Nowadays I suppose we only tend to see people huddled in parks drinking – well you do in Cambridge.

After a short ride up the road I turned off along a a bridleway in Denham.  This one looked reasonably OK, in fact it started as a concrete road before turning into a mud track, with the dreaded tyre imprints.

This is the route looking back, the road is on the other side of the house. Perhaps there are plans to run a Guided Busway along the tracks?

After the wider track the hedgerows seemed to grow up on each side and the hoof prints became more evident. Until, just before the road, it seemed to enter a small wood with brambles each side and a very soft churned up muddy path.  This was not so much as case of dabbing as walking and I found myself struggling not to sink quite deeply into the mud.  Towards the end I got back on the bike and managed to build some momentum when the front wheel seemed to jam up. 

My new front mudguard had folded back on itself and the stays had also come loose from the front wheel.  I unfold the mudguard and pushed my bike to the end of the path and sat at an old bench where I thought I would have to remove it.  As it happens I managed to bend it back into shape and with the exception of one bolt got it back into place.  They mudguards are SKS Chromoplastic and all the bumping must have shaken them loose. I had thought it was a stick that had gotten jammed. 

They remained OK for the journey home as long as I held both sides of the handlebars, if I only held one side then the vibration caused the mudguard to bang against the wheel.

I emerged onto the road just above Hargrave on the NCN51 route and carried on up to Barrow. I did pass a byway which on checking the map skirts around Wilsummer Wood and though another time. On the way up to Barrow I passed another trip point – this at 101m, you can see that old open barn in the background. when you cycle along the bridleways you don’t always travel that far.

I carried along NCN51 to Upper Green. This part of the route is very open, just past Denham End.

Whenever I have been along this road it has always been pretty quite – with very little traffic. It basically serves Denham End and the odd farm I suppose.  I did pass a chap flying a radio-controlled helicopter in a field.

There is a river flowing through this “valley” although I cannot seem to locate its name. The road is Burgate Road though.

My plan was to head up through Higham onto the other side of the A14 and also the Cambridge to Ipswich Railway line. The railway bridge is just near the old Higham Railway Station. It was quite a stretch to see over the walls on this railway bridge.

The route took me to the Icknield Way which headed back towards the A14. The countryside round here is “breckland” – or gorse-covered sandy heath as Wikipedia describes it. Sights such as these pine trees growing along the field boundaries are quite common.

When I reached the A14 I had two choices either to cycle under the A14 towards Kentford or head along a byway past Slade Bottom, past Kentford Heath. The first bit from near the A14 looks more like an industrial site, but it soon opens out to a track and then you turn left along another track.  In this picture the Heath is to the right.  The track was pretty easy to cycle along and I met a couple of horse riders  coming along in the other direction, also taking advantage of the early Spring sunshine.

I could have carried on to red Lodge, but decided to take the road to Kennett instead, which is where this picture was taken.

I then cycled around Chippenham, into Snailwell and onto Exning. Once in Exning, instead of following the NCN51 route again I too the shorter road to Burwell – the B1103. Not the most pleasant of roads – fast-ish and thin-ish. As i was on the way out of Burwell I made though I might as well avoid the way I cam and headed out towards Reach and up to the Lodes Way.  As I was cycling along Little Fen Drove the sun was setting in the sky and reflecting of the plastic covered fields.

The rest of the way I followed Lodes Way but once again threw caution to the wind and cycled from Lode to Quy on the B1102 before finally re-tracing my step.

I really enjoyed that ride and what’s more had a lot fewer aches and pains, I must be getting used to this cycling lark again – finally.


  1. Moulton fords

    Jamie already knows that I work a few days a month in Moulton, but not that I've seen the water over that ford quite a few times. Indeed well over the road seen going off to the right in the photo (Brookside is its name). It's been shin deep there, which is probably at the 2 foot mark on the post at the ford itself.

  2. Hi Mike, I guess they leave the Ford there for a reason, but it is still surprising how a "sleepy" stream can become such a flow a water.

  3. Really good post and some amazing photography.

    Definitely would like to cycle further down South soon.

    Pedal Power