Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Sunny, Strenuous, Cycle ride to Soham and back

Monday, 7th March: Well I don’t know for sure what it was, but my off-line Blog Editor Zoundry no longer works. It worked yesterday only Windows Update then loaded 4 pieces of software, none of which look as if they should have any effect and which, to be fair I agreed to. But today, when  I started Zoundry it came up with a bunch of errors and fails to show any pictures in the off-line versions of the Posts (as well as a bunch of error messages) and the HTML view of the Post doesn’t work either. So I have wasted valuable cycling and blogging time messing around to try and get back to something that wasn’t broken – at least in terms of writing Posts that I was happy with, at least in terms of look and feel.

I tried a bunch of things including removing and re-loading Zoundry, creating a new version of the blog, removing all data and starting again and nothing fixed the problem.  I then tried Zoundry on my Laptop, which runs Vista and it worked. So I my assumption that the problem is related to Windows 7 and yesterday’s update seems reasonable. Mind you having said that there was another Microsoft security update as well. Oh well I guess I was riding my luck. Zoundry has not been supported for a long time,  in fact since it went open source.  My copy says that the build was 1.0.375, 08/05/08, so it is nearly three years old (or two and a half if the date was in US format).

So I have switched to Live Writer, which I generally use on my Laptop and so you might notice some minor changes in layout and formatting, but hopefully it won’t be too bad and who knows maybe it was time for a change to something more modern. Mind you having said that I am now really struggling with the changed work flow and can’t even add a picture to the blog properly. This was a work in progress and I have previously added all the pictures with margins, except for the map picture. I have now got it in, but can’t remember how to edit the margins around it.

So after a bit of a struggle here is the map of the ride – and I have yet to find an easy way to add borders around the picture without editing the HTML, which is something I really want to avoid doing for each picture. Anyway back to the Post. At the time I felt that I wasn’t going to get the chance to cycle for a few days (which has proved correct) so taking a couple of hours (or so) off on Monday afternoon seemed like a reasonable trade-off. Especially as I had a meeting that evening.

Here is the Bike Route Toaster (BRT) link to the route, which is just over 64Km / 40 miles in length and has a “massive” hill reaching all of 40m above sea level at around 15Km, but is really not at all hilly, except for a flatlander like me. The route follows a mix of byways, bridleways and country lanes for the most past with the odd shared-use cycle way and what will come as now surprise to regular readers makes use of the Lodes Way cycle route. This route first heads out to Exning, Burwell and Soham before returning, for the most part on the Lodes Way. 

Whilst all of the route was quite cycle-able on my Touring bike at one point it felt like very hard work on a relatively soggy grass track – especially as I was running out to time to complete my ride, get a shower and then head out for my meeting (on my bike of course).

The first picture stop was not until I had reached Swaffham Bulbeck via NCN51 and then turned off along the Swaffham Heath Road, which must have been the hill shown in the BRT route summary.  Off in the distance I was surprised that you could see hills and quite a lot of woodland around.  My guess is that it is off in the Wandlebury direction, but it looks higher than any of the hills I have cycled up round here. Once again it is a bot of a shame that we seem to have so many electricity pylons crossing the countryside round here.


The Swaffham Heath Road crosses over the A14 where it joins the A11, here is the bridge. I turned off onto an unnamed byway on the left just before the bridge. I did stop to take a picture of the daffodils though. They always seem to come out quite early around this bridge. Just to the left is a small road which passes some houses and then turns left to run parallel with the A14.


The track starts well as it seems to be used to access a Basestation, part of the mobile phone network. It then becomes a slightly rutted track like this. At this time of year the ruts are wet and quite slippery, but the hedge row on either side encroaches so you have to be a bit careful not to get hit in the eye. A bit later in the year and I would wear sunglasses but it is not quite that bright just yet. Sunglasses do help to protect your eyes though. In the end I cycled down the middle.


The route passes the Devil’s Dyke which has been interrupted at this point by the large road although there is a bridge across the road for walkers. There are some places on the A14 and A11 where footpaths have been bisected and the only provision for the right of way is the addition of a gap in the barriers. I know bridges cost money but it is no way to treat an ancient right of way. Only a mad person would cross a road like the A14 or A11 on foot, which is what I ended up doing once when cycling from Cambridge to Thetford.


Being a really ancient construction this right of way has a footbridge – here. The road is not a Motorway but is six lanes wide under this bridge. This particular byway/bridleway has not yet been mapped on the OSM map. I dare say it will follow though.


I then joined the NCN51 cycle route between Burwell and Exning along another Heath Road which is also where the Cambs/ Suffolk border lies where I cycled ast some recently ploughed fields.  What is surprising is how much the soil colour changes just a short way from the Fens, this is really a light brown.


After a brief cycle through the interestingly named Exning I carried along a no through road – North Road to another byway. This must have had a banning order though as it has a narrow gate at the Exning end and seems to have been used by horse riders recently.  It is called Haycroft lane at the Exning end then Howlem Balk when it crosses the Ness Road between Fordham and Burwell. Fortunately the mud was fairly firm, but it wasn’t the most pleasant of rides, bumping over the hoof-prints. It was much quieter than cycling alongside the A14 though, even if there was a hedge between me and the vehicles.


The byway starts narrow but soon gets a bit wider, more befitting of the byway it is. There seemed to be some larger tyre tracks so I wouldn’t be surprised if motorcyclists also use this track. Mind you at this point, which is looking back towards Exning it also provides a route for farmers to get to their fields.


That bit of the byway lies in Suffolk, after crossing the road I was well and truly back in Cambridgeshire again. Howlem Balk is a much wider track and is kept in a reasonable state of repair  by those who use it.  Having said that there were quite a few puddles along it;  I then turned right when it reached Burwell along the Broads Road. A road that peters out to become another byway. This byway is clearly used by farm traffic to get to the fields and those fields have needed ploughing so the byway was very heavily rutted.  I managed to keep cycling for the most part. Although when heading through a puddle of unknown depth you are never quite sure you won’t hit a brick or rock and come to a halt. The other challenge is that the wheels pick up loads of mud which clogs them and makes it harder to keep going. 

At one point I finally had to cross the track and walked for a bit, but then managed to cycle along a narrow strip right next to the deeply ploughed field, Just as I was getting cocky I hit a rock and ended up having to jump off the bike, letting it fall into the field, nothing but my pride hurt.

The path then got better as it turned to head for Ness Farm, this time I didn’t stop at all, but I did under-estimate the depth of a couple of puddles and gave my cycling boots a nice muddy wash as my pedals dipped under the water. I either kept pedalling or I stopped and stepped in it. By the time I reached the road I had to clear out the mud from the wheels to allow the bike to run smoothly.


I cycled along the B1102 for a brief while before taking the first available left ( as they say in the driving test) along Cockpen Road over the Ely/Bury St Edmunds railway line, being careful not to get my wheels stuck in the gap between the rails and the road. Most roads cross railway lines at right angles, except it seems for some the level crossings around here.

There is a water tower on the outskirts of Soham, with a pink top – which you can see in this picture. Apparently it dates from the early 20th Century, If you follow the link you can see pictures of when the roads were dug up to put mains water and sewer pipes into Soham.


A bypass was built around Fordham but for cyclists you can carry on the road, past Lark Hall Farm (on Larkhall Road) and then onto a byway into Soham first crossing Military Road (A1123), down Orchard Row and back onto the A1123, but now called Wicken Road. This is not one of the nicest roads to cycle along as it is a minor road but can carry a lot of traffic, especially when there have been problems elsewhere on Cambridge’s roads. As I cycled into Wicken an impatient oncoming car driver overtook a car – it concentrates the mind when you see a car coming at you at 70mph on you side of the road. He might not have noticed me, although I was wearing a fluorescent yellow jacket, but he can’t have missed the car just behind me that had to brake heavily to avoid a .”coming together”. Save a minute lose a lifetime.

I must have take pictures from the Reach Lode Bridge loads (or should that be lodes) of times.  I forgot to mention just how clear and blue the skies were. There wasn’t much wind about either. This is the view looking towards Reach.


Alongside the bridge is a pond created as part of the development. “A balancing pond worth of a motorway development!” By this point I was getting a little worried about my timing, I really did need to get a shower before heading back out again.


But for some reason I couldn’t resist cycling down the byway alongside Swaffham Bulbeck Lode down to Cow Lane. A little bit down from the Lodes Way Bridge over the Lode is a footbridge, So I had to stop and take a picture of the Lodes Way bridge in the evening sun.


The byway is on the left of the picture under the level of the bank. It started off ok, but despite not looking too bad the slightly soggy grass with tractor tyre imprints really was hard going. At one point I did think I must have been mad to leave the Lodes Way, when I had a deadline.  It doesn’t even look far on the map, but try cycling it, it seems to be miles in length.


A familiar sight came into view after what seems like ages – the old railway bridge (Cambridge/Mildenhall over Swaffham Bulbeck Lode) It looks rather overgrown now and it is difficult to imagine trains puffing their way long here. It closed down in the early 60s.


It was a pleasure to get back onto a decent track surface after the bridge and then as time was short I carried on down the shared cycle path to Lode and then on the B1102 road to Quy. It is not a road I like much, busy, fast not very wide, but it was not dark and I was under pressure.  I did get back and managed a quick shower in time to head out again on my bike – but fortunately I only had 3Km to cycle. I do admit it crossed my mind to drive, but common sense won out – parking in Cambridge is no joke.

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