Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Yellow fields and blue Skies–another ride to St Ives

Saturday, 9th April: What a sunny Saturday it was just the day for a cycle into the secluded Fens. First though the chores including the weekly shopping and an hour or so with my learner daughter driver out in the car. It frankly amazes me to see such bad driving on the roads sometimes, no I don’t mean my daughter. Occasionally I drive the car she is learning in and so experience just what it is like to have “L” plates on. 

I was driving along a road with a slow non-learner driver (at least no L plates) in front of me.  Now the car behind obviously felt it was an affront to his manhood to be behind a learner (or so he thought)  and tried over-taking a couple of times in totally unsuitable places. In fact it was only when he (yes a he!) tried it the second time did he realise that there was a slow car in front of both of us.  When the slow car turned off I then drove at the speed limit (clear road, good weather) only to find that the excuse of a car behind me was slipping back with what looked to be smoke signals coming out of the back. The car did not seem capable of driving at 60mph.

When you drive a car then it is discomfiting to know there are drivers like that around you, however when you are on a bike then it is just plain scary. My car insurance has just come up for renewal and my Broker was telling me that one of the reasons it has gone up (by 20%) is that the number of uninsured drivers is now reckoned to be 1 in 10.

So what to do but head out on the Cambridge Super Highway Guided Busway High-quality path for bicycles. I do not claim to be a fast cyclist, however for an afternoon’s cycling you really want to be able to stretch your legs which for me means a distance of around 30-50 miles (48 – 80Km).  The reasons for such a large spread – well weather, “road” surface, available time and my fitness levels all play a part in influencing the distance.

One of the reasons I like the CGB cycle path is that it enables me to get a reasonable distance away from Cambridge to pastures new. At the moment it is a quiet route and away from traffic. When they put down the tarmac surface from Milton Road to Longstanton it will be great. It is a great shame that the rest of the route will not benefit from a better surface.  To be fair, from Longstanton up to the Fen Drayton Lakes the track is ok now that the loose gravel has been cleared by the cyclists using it.  The bit around the lakes that gets flooded is pretty appalling and I guess will be impassable when guided buses are running for long chunks of time though the year until (if) it gets sorted.

The trouble is I have cycled this route a fair few times and sometimes a change is as good as a rest. There is a pleasant and reasonably quiet way back to Cambridge along the current NCN51 Sustrans route, but…  Because the weather was so nice and it has been dry recently I knew that the Aldreth Causeway would be pretty reasonable to cycle along. The problem is how to get to Aldreth from St Ives.

This route tries to avoid the A1123 by heading up the B1040 out of St Ives and then across to Bluntisham and then Earith before a brief run along the A1123. To be honest I found the brief ride along the B1040 worse than the A1123, but but it was pleasant apart from that. What I would like is a cycle route from Meadow Lane (St Ives) up to Holywell and then Needingworth  and then a bridge from Overcote Lane over the River Great Ouse to Chain Road (Over). Most of this route is really pleasant though.  You will see that I did not go down the side of the River Cam after Waterbeach – I though it might be busy with Saturday afternoon walkers and gave it a miss.

Here is the Bike Route Toaster Link to the map shown below. What a surprise - it is a pretty flat route but there is a small climb near the middle – yes the aforementioned B1040 – but that is not why I didn’t like it.  The distance was a very pleasant 64Km/40miles and the weather was delightful for cycling, sunny, clear but not too hot. I did take some suntan lotion with me, but I tan quite easily and didn’t need it. Much sunnier and I would have had to put some on though.

To cut part of the story short I cycled all the way up the CGB track and only once had to divert along the edge of a giant puddle. The track surface is pretty bad where it has flooded though.

As you can see in this picture taken along the early stages of the GCB, after passing under the A14, but before Histon, the oilseed rape was well out in flower and the skies were blue with just the odd wisp of a cloud about. (And there was lots of new leaf on the trees as well.)

This is the view back down the CGB, with the A14 bridge just about visible.

The CGB passes a road between Girton and Histon (called New Road) and in parallel with the CGB but closer to Histon is a bridleway which heads towards Westwick Hall and WestwickHorse Chestnut trees grow alongside the bridleway and at this stage of Spring look magnificent, with fresh vibrant green leaves. Unfortunately they have been infested with Horse-chestnut leaf miner which according to the Wikipedia article only really blights the trees later in the season.  It makes the trees look like Autumn has arrived early although apparently there is no evidence that it leads to tree death.  Another of the problems these trees can suffer from is Bleeding canker. As you can see here, whatever the cause there are gaps where horse-chestnut trees have died. Enjoy the green whilst you can.

I almost forgot to mention one of the things I saw. I normally wave or nod to passing cyclists, but most of the time I tend to see bikes with two wheels and very occasionally a trike – well I passed a chap on a unicycle and almost forgot to wave. He was approaching the CGB from Rampton so had presumably unicycled some way.  I wonder where he puts his lights and GPS and bell?

All in all I saw around 35 cyclists using the CGB, with 20 on the concrete tracks and the rest down in the dirt like me.

After passing through St Ives I headed north along the B1040. This is not a road I have used often, but I certainly did not enjoy it the last time when cycling into St Ives.  St Ives lies at a “crossroads” with A roads in the other three directions so I don’t suppose I should be too surprised just how busy this road is.  The challenge is that it is straight, non too wide and undulates which add up to a road that is non too pleasant for cyclists.  Cars whizz by and although most give you space there are some drivers who think it reasonable to pass a cyclist at high speed with inches to spare. As you can see from this picture looking to Bathe Hill there is not a lot of room.  This road also provides the only “climb” of the ride reaching the not too magnificent height of 33m at the crossroads and turn to Bluntisham.

It can’t be quite as sunny and warm up here in the outer Fens compared with the metropolis of Cambridge – the oilseed rape is not quite as advanced. Mind you those wispy clouds seem to be following me.

Next time I take this route or at least the next time I cycle between Bluntisham and Earith I will check out the route via the Sand and Gravel pit which follows a bridleway back to Earith. The road out of Earith crosses two bridges, the first crosses the Old Bedford River and the second crosses the New Bedford River. In the middle lie the Hundred Foot Washes. The two rivers join up at the Denver Sluices. Here is the “Old” one.

Here is the new one – this looks a little more like a river to me, although not too far up, it straightens out.

After passing the Marina (on the A1123) you then turn right down what looks like a farm road between farm buildings (Hermitage Farm/New England Farm). The track is known as the Upper Delph Drove. I must be getting further south – the oilseed rape was well in flower here.

This is a lovely bit of countryside to cycle through you feel as if you are in the middle of nowhere (almost). After bearing left onto Gravel Pit Drove this is the view. This is the first time I’ve been along this route “backwards” and I forgot to bear left and ended up on another track which petered out and so had to backtrack on my backwards track.

This track is flat, but is used and the surface had recently been flattened and so was quite loose and not very compact. So i cycled along the edge. Just as I was musing on the peace and quiet a quad bike shot by, the driver did give a wave. I think I’ll stick to my bicycle.  This picture is made up of three pictures stitched together.

After the track the route follows concrete slab roads to Aldreth (Long Drove, Dam Bank Drove and The Boot). As you cycle there is a regular bump, bump, bump. Then I turned onto the Aldreth Causeway along side Catchwater Drain to a bridge over the River great Ouse.

It always amazes me how for ages over Winter we see very little growth and then some crocus and daffodils and then suddenly loads of flowers wild and garden start coming out.  Here is some Lamium album (White deadnettle). It looks a bit like a nettle, but doesn’t sting – hence the “dead”. What I did not know is that bees are attracted to the flowers and it is sometimes called the Bee Nettle.

Whilst standing on the bridge I also took a picture looking along the Aldreth Causeway in the direction I was heading. The track gets a bit rutted, so try not to get caught in them, but generally there is always a bit of track to cycle along.

You can see why I titled this post as I did. England goes from being a green and pleasant land to a yellow and pleasant land at this time of year.

The causeway crosses a few roads on it way down and in places looks rather like a green road, between hedgerows with white blossom sprinkled amongst them.

For a change I turned off along Irlam Drove (a road) and then after turning up Cow Lane I turned off along a bridleway known as Archie’s Way to Cottenham.  The route is flat, the surface is rather bumpy, not treacherously so, just enough to knock your fillings out. It is not too far though and you reach a road – Great North Drove alongside the Great North Fen. After reaching Cottenham I cycled on through Landbeach to Waterbeach. I switched into the cycle way alongside the Clayhithe Road, but because it was a Saturday decided against cycling along The Halingway and instead emerged onto the bridge over the River Cam to find traffic lights and road works, I am not sure why. As I stood on Clayhithe Bridge I took a picture looking up the Cam.

That would be a really epic ride around the Fens if only there was a better way from St Ives to the Aldreth causeway. Pick a nice day and give it a go – take a picnic – you will enjoy it.

I almost forgot to mention. Regular readers will know I listen to the Archers, generally on a Saturday on my MP3 player. There are now two 30 minute Ambridge Extra programs as well each week. My first impressions were not bad – but i did not like the musical arrangement one bit.


  1. Cracking pics as usual Jme.

    The road north of St Ives - I've had exactly the same experience being buzzed at 70mph. It's a shame as it seems a natural place to turn when on a circular ride NW of Cambridge.

    The route via the gravel pits from Earith to Over is worth taking. I recommend the track marked as Long Holme Drove, rather than the private route next to the river Ouse. It is passable but very rutted by big tracked vehicles. Last time I was in the area (actually last year when I re-mapped it) a lot of the area was being excavated so could well have been made impassible by now.

    On the southern end of the Aldreth Causeway there is a caravan where there used to be a maaaaasive angry dog on a long chain. The dog would always make a run for you as you cycled past but get violently yanked by the neck as the chain tightened.

  2. Thank you. In general there are not too many roads I really don't like - but that is one of them.

    I think I went that way last April when the planes were grounded. (KPTP: bridleway to Aldreth then Over

    I also think a few more pedestrian/cycle/horse rider bridges over the Cam would help connect some of the communities.

    I know the dog you mean - although I haven't seen anyone in there for a long time.

    I like cycling around Childerley Hall - and I am impressed with your off-road long-cut home. I used to do long-cuts on my bike commute, but stuck with the roads.