Thursday, April 28, 2011

A b-u-m-p-y ride to Boxworth and back

Monday, 25th April: Easter Monday, blue skies and time for a cycle, there was a bit of wind about though.  Despite that it was better to get out for a ride than sit at home and moan. My daughter was back at school on Tuesday and needed to finish off some homework and my son was still in need of money and doing odd jobs.

I haven’t been out along the bridleways from Coton to Caldecote recently (Whitwell Way and Port Way) and although the popular routes tend to be busy around Bank Holidays it still surprises me how few people you see when you wander even slightly further afield. I guess the challenge is that a place like Wicken Fen provides a nice constrained circular walk with tea rooms at the end and a car park for the car, whereas following byways and bridleways requires a little bit more local knowledge and planning. That is of course why bicycles are so good, they are versatile, park anywhere (almost) and allow you to wander along both beaten and bumpy tracks.

This route makes use of the Cambridge Guided Busway to beat a hasty retreat home and also I managed to “explore” a byway I’d not been along before near a place called Battle Gate near Childerley Hall. The only reference I could easily find was to Battlegate Road, Boxworth where there was an ADAS facility. A Consultancy providing science-based and rural consultancy and contracting services. It was formed from UK Government agencies and known as the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service until it was privatised in 1997.

Here is a Bike Route Toaster Link to the map shown below it is just under 50Km / 31 miles in length and climbs from around 7m above sea level to 70m before returning to Cambridge again (and 7m). As I mentioned further up the track is pretty bumpy probably due to the very dry weather we have been having for a while. It is not one I will hurry back to, at least not on my Marin Hybrid.

I left Cambridge on the Madingley Road and headed to Coton and then along a no-through road to the bridleway which skirts around the back of a Rifle Range near Barton.  The direction of fire is towards the bridleway and the concern is that ricochets or bullets leaving the range in free flight could represent a danger. Apparently there are limits on the muzzle velocities allowed.

As you might imagine there are quite a few warning signs and the bridleway is pretty clear and not easy to miss. (There are quite a few yellow fields around as well.) The path was rock solid and imprinted with tractor tyre tread which made it fairly bumpy, nothing difficult to cycle on, just a bit rattily. I passed a few cyclists going back to Coton, also out for a rattle? Here you can see the path head off into the distance towards a patch of woodland where it emerges onto Long Road (roughly between Hardwick and Comberton).

There are convenient barriers on exit of the bridleway, for balancing cameras, which was necessary as despite the sun the woodland was quite shady and needed quite a long exposure.

The last time I cycled this way you had to head down Long Road a short way to get to the next leg of the bridleway (Port Way). There is now a permissive bridleway that allows you to cross directly and then along this path to Port Way, which runs along the edge between the yellow and brown fields. There is also a footpath that runs along the line of trees which is also the line of Bin Brook. I seem to remember seeing a reference to the kind people who allowed this Permissive path to be built but can’t find it. I did find a reference to the U3AC list of Spring cycle rides though, one of which used Whitwell Way.

When I went looking for the information about the permissive bridleway I did find a reference to one of my previous rides in these parts. I took a picture of this sign that time as well.  “No Public Access”, “Health and Safety Notice” – Health and Safety gone mad or a land-owner pulling a crafty one? This time around the track surface was pretty solid.  The bridleway (Port Way) does do a dog leg before it gets to this point through Starve Goose Plantation with quite a few tree roots and rabbit holes to watch for.  Then the path narrows and suffers from one or two areas where if it was wet then large muddy “puddles” form and you can see where people skirt around them. (This picture was taken looking back the way I had come.)

As you might expect there are quite a few yellow fields in flower along the way. Port Way crosses the road just below Hardwick (at 66m elevation) and then follows yet another dry bumpy track. This picture was made from three pictures taken side by side and still I didn’t get the entire field in. For some reason each of the separate pictures suffered from vignetting so before I used Photoshop to stitch them together I had to de-vignette them.   The results were a little uneven and so you can see the joins, sorry. It is still a wide yellow field.

This is the track, there is a bench a little further up for weary travellers. You can see how dry the ground is as there are cracks running along the length of the path. If it gets any worse then I’ll have to make sure my wheels don’t get stuck. At this point I was cycling slowly and stopping to take pictures (my excuse) and three young girls also out on their bikes caught me up.   Here is a Cambridge News article “Meadows must bank on rise in rainfall” discussing the exceptionally dry weather we have had recently.

A little bit further along and I could hear shooting, a 4x4 was parked and the occupants must have been out for a bit of “hunting”. Whilst checking Where’s The Path to see where they were hunting I noticed that the “satellite image” had caught a small plane in the picture.

The track then does another dog leg where you can either take a byway into the village of Caldecote or head further south past Hardwick Wood.  I had intended to take the short cut and then carry along a byway to Bourn, I missed the turn and cycled past Hardwick Wood instead. The track was unpleasantly bumpy, the wood was full of bluebells. The Wild Life Trust information on Hardwick Wood suggests it was referred to in the Doomsday Book (AKA Domesday Book.) The information also calls the path along the West side the Mere Way although I thought that the Mere Way followed the line of the A10.

Here are the bluebells.

As I had taken a different route to my planned route and was a little tired of bumpy bridleways I cycled up through Caldecote on the road (Main Street) stopping at the local shop to get a drink. (I did have some lemon squash, but it had gone warm, I wanted something cold.) I cycled up and over the A428, now a dual-carriageway and onto the old road (St Neots Road). Cars whizz along this old road pretty quickly so pay attention. It is not bad, but cars do seem to speed along it. Bourn Airfield is to the South of the new dual-carriageway and there seemed to be a Bank Holiday market on.

A short way along the St Neot’s Road is a byway to the right past a couple of large storage tanks, marked as a Reservoir on one scale of OS map.  The byways are often more noticeable because of the No tipping signs rather than the byway signs. Talking of which another Cambridge News item reports on “Fly tippers fined after junk found in village”. The two involved were fined £500 plus £375 in costs and £800 and £375 in costs – pretty steep.

Although the byway doesn’t appear to have a name it heads to Bird’s Pastures Farm and is a route I have taken to Childerley Hall before. This time I took a different bridleway towards Battle Gate – it was a route I had not cycled along. It was actually a good track (it serves the farm), in fact the ride up from the St Neot’s Road was all pretty cycle-able  The map indicates that the road was at 64m elevation above sea level.

I seem to have taken so many pictures of yellow fields that I am a bit tired of them (Phew I hear you say!).  This one was odd there were two semi-greenhouse structures in the middle of the field.  At first I wondered if they had been left in the field and drilled around – but of course not.  So there must be some sort of trial taking place. (ADAS is just up this road.)

As I was cycling along I noticed another byway to explore – Thorofare Lane to Knapwell. Although it is called Thoroughfare Lane in this report by the Cambridgeshire Local Access Forum.

These minutes of the British Bryological Society do refer to Thorofare lane – “A broad attractive trackway lined by broad hedges. The best find here was Aphanorhegma patens…” They also refer to a sign that I must watch out for when I venture that way. I did not know what the Bryological Society does – follow the link if you are interested.

After a short while the track turns to road (Battle Gate Road) and passes the ADAS facility on the left with Boxworth Experimental Husbandry Farm on the right before entering Boxworth. Although there are some interesting bridleways around here I carried on through Boxworth on the road, over the A14, past Tipplers Road (a byway), a route I have cycled along but can’t find the relevant post. Ah yes I can here it is.

As I passed through Swavesey I noticed a bridleway near the church and thought I must check that out on the map. (It heads to the CGB). Nearby was this rather nice tree. Also the elevation is now down to 9m. I can’t recall cycling down any hill back there!

When I got to the CGB it was busy, there were family groups out cycling, walking and in this case riding.As I rolled across the road I was preparing to dismount, my bike of course, but couldn’t help over-hearing the two kids getting reminded not to ride two abreast and so block my way through. I can also see how the half-barriers were designed to work with horses in mind.  The lad seems to be waiting with his horses nose up at the barrier. Presumably this minimises any risk of the horse being startled and nipping over in front of a car.

A bit further along I passed three generations of one family all out cycling - Grandmother, mum and two daughters. We all agreed how lovely it was being able to cycle along such a quiet and safe track in the countryside. There were one or two families with teens cycling as well. I think that for many people, for whom cycling is a leisure activity they really don’t want to deal with noisy and potentially unsafe traffic they want a hassle free path without too many foibles. When you are cycling with young kids or in a social group twiddly cycle paths can lead to upsets.

Am I the only one, if I have to admit it, I am not really looking forward to CGB buses running. I know they will and must, let’s face it a decent cycle path would have cost a lot less and too much has been invested not to benefit from it. However I have enjoyed this quiet route.

Whilst I am on the subject of the Guided bus – “it may hit £187m” apparently. Whilst reading the article I must admit the British adversarial political system does get up my nose a bit.  Can’t they work together for the pubic good, why does so much time and energy have to be spent scoring points off each other. Having two kids (now young adults), what I have seen is that they are turned off by the constant political bickering. If they had behaved at school like the scenes they witness in the Houses of Parliament they feel they would have gotten a good telling off.

A fine filly - and the horse isn’t too bad either – sorry it’s the old jokes that are the best jokes.

I have said this before and I will say it again if we want to encourage more cyclists to venture out then decent longer distance routes need to be provided. I feel that the current belief that cyclists can only manage a cycle commute of a few metres before they are tired out and have to catch a bus is wrong. If you expect a little you will get a little. More CGB-like high-quality cycle routes please.

And you know what – despite the wind – it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the ride one bit.

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