Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Roman Road to Westley Bottom and back Part 2

The Roman Road carries on beyond the Balsham turning (the turning is the Icknield Way Trail) as a byway until Mark’s Grave where it crosses a small country road between West Wratting and Bartlow (Mill Road perhaps).  I have just noticed on the  Where’s The Path view of this area that there is a bridleway just down the road heading back towards Linton that looks like it is worth exploring. After that the Roman Road turns into a bridleway before crossing the road between Streetly End and Horseheath where it turns into a footpath before finally petering out just before Haverhill.

It would seem that the Cambridge area is blessed with OSM contributors as the other thing that peters out is the mapping of the Roman Road footpath and the other myriad paths in this area.

Back to this ride (and here is the BRT link again – which looks to be number 216,800).

The Icknield Way Path website suggests that it is “the oldest road in Britain, ancient when the Romans came. The path climbs a slight slope up to Balsham and I find that you need to get a bit of momentum, but you also need time to pick your “route”. The track is well used, as you can see from the ruts and there were still puddles, however it was in the main, pretty solid and the real trick was to avoid getting trapped in a deep rut as trying to get out requires bunny-hopping skills that are at the limit of my skills. Which is to say I don’t really have any trick cycling skills.  I do sometimes think I ought to learn to track-stand, it always impresses me when I stop at a set of traffic lights and the guy (invariably) on his bike next to me balances nonchalantly. It is funnier when they fail though. 

The elevation around here is 100-110m and the path climbs about 20m from the Roman Road at 90m above sea level and you get some views across the countryside. This is a wider shot of the route I had just cycled.

This is the Linton Water Tower which appears as a small dot on  the horizon and is dodecagonal (12-sided) apparently. It was built of brick rather than concrete to harmonise with the landscape. 

Even with a zoom lens the tower does not get much bigger, I am not sure that it harmonises as such, but a concrete tower would look less attractive certainly.

The Icknield Way Path makes use of a footpath through Balsham, that I accidentally cycled along once as I was exploring. This time I cycled down Balsham  High Street to Fox Road which becomes a byway as it leaves Balsham. Next time I will have to look out for the listed buildings along the road. I have always found the track to be ok in the past, whatever the season. Although it does get rutted and I did bang my pedal when stuck in a deep  rut and had to stop.  As the byway reaches Six Mile Bottom Road it gets a loose gravel surface, which is ok-ish – again a question of momentum.

The byway then passes along a tree-lined belt where the surface was good hard-packed mud. On the map there is a slight kink, in reality you seem to turn through 90 degrees  before “dropping down” to cross a small unnamed country lane. This is the view just past the lane looking back along the tree-lined byway.

This is the view of the byway to come.  It is more a farm track dropping from 90m to 63m and whilst it is great not having to cycle the track has a lot of loose stones along it and ruts and puddles at the “deep end, where there is a ford that crosses a small stream and passes a Pumping Station. You rarely ever see much water in the stream and if you do there is a raised wooden walkway to the side.

The trouble with gravity is that there is no such thing as a free ride.  What goes down must be pedalled back up and so you end up cycling back up to around 100m along a road that undulates a bit and passes Brinkley Woodland Cemetery (which appears on the OSM Cycle map but not on the OS map). I then headed down to Westley Bottom on the road of the same name. This road also undulates, but does drop from 92m to 51m and you can pick up a fair bit of speed, in my case 48Km/h 30mph and that was without trying.

What stops you is a level crossing where the route crosses the Cambridge to Newmarket railway line and then becomes a byway as it passes Westley Crossing Cottages. Here is the railway track looking in the Newmarket direction.

This is the first time I have had to wait for a train to go past before crossing here though. When you are on the train they don’t seem to be very fast, but standing nearby they seem faster. I took two pictures, but the second was when the train was quite close and pretty blurred.

This is my bike waiting patiently, after the train had gone by, that little green light next to the gate was red earlier on. It does seem strange to walk across this type of level crossing, although this is not the busiest line I have crossed with my bike before.

The byway then crosses the A1304 which at the time of day I passed was quite busy and I had to wait for quite a while. The byway then heads towards the A11 and this bit of the byway seems to have been troubled by rabbits. There are lots and lots of rabbit holes which makes the ride a little bumpy. The sun was also setting. Why is it that blue skies can become so over-cast so quickly, but then you often get a clear bit at the horizon. I stopped for a drink on the A11 bridge and then took this picture of the yellow sky behind the pylon.

The same view but at the widest angle (14-140mm lens, 28mm – 280mm in 35mm speak). As you can see - very grey skies, but with a strip of yellow along the horizon.

There is a three-way byway intersection just after the A11 bridge, straight on to Bottisham and left to Great Wilbraham.  I chose the Wilbraham turn, it was just a little bit longer. I then cycled around the back of Great Wilbraham along Angle End – and no that is not a typo it is Angle End on the Streetmap OS map.  I did take a picture of the sunset through the churchyard though.

The rest of the journey was pretty straightforward, I re-joined NCN51 after cycling along Little Wilbraham Road, it is not a very nice road for cycling along as it is thin, straight and a bit of a rat-run, fortunately the rats were heading in the other direction and I had my brightest lights with me.


  1. That's a great route. If you didn't know, the loop from Fulbourn is the exact route published once in Mountain Bike Rider (MBR) magazine. It is the only one in this area.

    A couple of months ago I was re-checking it to see if it was suitable for some friends on hybrid bikes. Alas no, the section between Balsham and the Roman Road was an absolute quagmire. We lack the hills round here, but the mud and wind provide just as much resistance.

  2. I stopped buying MTB magazines a while ago, too much nice kit on offer, lots of really nice routes to cycle - but none (or should that be one) around here. I used to go up to Thetford with my son, the singletrack is good fun. There are also some very tricky (for me) sandy tracks in Thetford as well (NCN30).

    The trouble is I prefer to cycle to them than drive, but I need thick tyres when I am there, but thin tyres to get there.

    I also dislike mud when I am on my hybrid to much like hard work. I do like cycling though honest.