Sunday, May 1, 2011

Heading to the Hemingfords then back by the CGB

Friday 29th April: Well it seems I have almost caught up with my Posts, as I write this it is Sunday and the Post is of a ride on Friday. How did I manage that? Well strange as it may seem the crop of Bank Holidays we are enjoying here in the Flatlands meant that I pretty much had to work on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in between the two holiday weekends without managing to get out for a ride. (Scotland has slightly different holidays compared with England, Wales and Northern Ireland).

After the last ride around Boxworth and back, when I got home and was looking for information about one of the byways near Boxworth I found myself reading the CTC Cambridge rides Blog. There was a Post on an afternoon ride to Hemingford Abbots which mentioned a “long section of bridleway past Topfield Farm”. It sounded good and after a three-day layoff would make for a slightly longer ride. (Interestingly their ride also used the CGB (Cambridge Guided Busway) as a fast route home.)  So my goal for my ride was to check out that bridleway, with a quiet and interesting route to it and then to use the CGB to get home.

Here is the route I chose (well someway down the page and here is the Bike Route Toaster Link) including my “almost” visit to Fenstanton.  The route does make use of two footpaths, one between Bar Hill and Lolworth and the other between Houghton and St Ives. I have seen reference to both of them also being used by cyclists and certainly there are signs of cycle use (wheel tracks) on both of them.

This ride is 66Km / 41 miles long, although you don’t really need to take the wrong turning to Fenstanton like I did.  All the off-road bits were in good condition and quite cycle-able, the route into Boxworth was the roughest – but not bad. I would not call this a hilly route, but any lumps occur in the first 25Km or so.

My original plan was to set off around 1pm but when I tracked down my Garmin GPS I had left it on my bike and I must have left it on as the battery was flat! This year I have decided to ditch the belt and braces approach to tracking my ride distances. Over the years I have used a variety of bike “computers” to track distance. In my youth you attached a counter to the fork and a stud onto a spoke and every rotation of the wheel would cause the stud to hit and rotate a cog on the counter and so you could track your distance cycled (See History – it was invented in 1895). Here is a link to a Sanyo vintage Speedometer. Mine was not as complicated, it was fork mounted counter a bit like the one in this link except mine was horizontal. (Sheldon Brown also has item on them – see Cyclometer – his article reminded me of the “tink-tink-tink” noise.

I then went without any cycle-tracking in my early working life. I used to visit friends and go out in the evening on my bike. The bike had a utility role for me – I still enjoyed it though – you can’t beat swooping along country lanes with a few friends after visiting the Pub on a Summer’s evening.

After a while work and company cars and kids conspire to “make” you put on weight and my wife (although she denies it) suggested that cycling would help me live to see the kids grow up – alright she wasn’t so blunt but that’s what she meant. So we used to take it in turns to cycle around a loop of 16Km/10 miles in the evening after work. (The other would look after the children). By this time electronic cycle-computers were around and I started using them to track my distances and in ‘94 I even started writing them down. These are now in my Cycling spreadsheet. (As the kids grew we got also a tandem – brilliant fun.)

The problem is though the sensor positioning was tricky and cables were easily snagged, batteries ran out and wireless sensors picked up spurious signals and so in 2008 I got a Garmin Edge 605 for use on my Bangkok to Saigon cycle ride. I first used it on 21st October 2008 on a ride from Bath to Bristol. Since then up until the beginning of this year I have used both a GPS and a Speedometer (Sigma). This year I decided to simplify and stopped using the Speedometer. This means two batteries less to worry about and not having to fiddle with a magnet and sensor after bumpy rides or clogging mud rides.

as a result of the flat battery it would be the first time I had been left without being able to track my time and distance  in ages (and more latterly route and altitude). Now my backup plan was to use Bike Route Toasters estimate of distance and elevation, but I in the end  delayed my ride for just over an hour to see whether I could get enough charge into the GPS for the afternoon (or should that be evening) ride. As it turned out it worked for the entire afternoon – as I stop to take pictures the GPS is on for longer than the distance would suggest. I did also run into the problem with the GPS claiming its memory was full, despite it not being so. The only cure is to do a power-on reset and then re-program various settings. – why do all these issues happen at once.

As I had set off later than planned and was unsure of just how long the charge would last on my GPS I felt pressure to “get there” (the bridleway to be explored) and to keep going with only a few stops to make use of the limited and unknown battery life. Normally I don’t cycle along Newmarket Road in Cambridge there are much nicer alternatives, although it does have cycle lanes and bus lanes.  As it was a Bank Holiday and attention was focused on the Royal Wedding I thought I’d take the risk. As it turned out I did have a bus in front of me which I overtook and then it caught up with me. However there were passengers along the route so it never got to the point where it needed to overtake me again.

I also went under the roundabout at the junction of the Newmarket Road (A1134) and the East Road (A603).  It took longer than if I have waited at the lights and involves some quite tight turns as well. (Mental note to self – don’t do that again – use the road.) I then found my way over to the Madingley Road via what feels like back streets but appears on the map as the A1134. As I headed out on the Madingley Road I used the road – the cycle path on the left is a shared use pavement with loads of driveways – if feels safer to be on the road.  Except of course when despite my primary position, or perhaps because of it, a car shot by me as we reached this pinch point on the road. A young boy racer? – no a middle-aged chap just asserting his rightful authority as a driver. (Come to think of it isn’t that same demographic who have a small percentage of drink-drivers who fail to see the error of their ways?)

Once I was away from the main road the traffic lightened and there were warning signs about in various villages because Street Parties were being held. (I wonder could we leave the signs there permanently?) The first group I passed was by the Church in Dry Drayton looking very festive in a wedding style. The food smelt good as well – but I had a partially charged battery to worry about. I did wonder if I queued up confidently in a food line whether I could get away with snaffling some.

I had to stop to take a picture of this Wood stump carving along Pettit’s Lane dressed up to celebrate the Wedding. (I have taken his picture a few times now.) I like to think that he is guarding the Bar Hill Cycleway.

After negotiating the somewhat dangerous (IMHO) pinch barriers that also guard the Bar Hill Cycleway – (at the bottom of the hill and not that well lit) I looped around the top of Bar Hill (think clockwise) on the road rather than on the bridleway. It didn't occur to me to use the bridleway. I sneaked off along the Footpath to Lolworth, having folded up my bike and stuck it in a rucksack of course (LOL).

It is a lovely link between Lolworth and Bar Hill. Bar Hill is not well served by cycle routes. In fact one of the CTC rides refers to using it, but warns that the surface is somewhat loose gravel. Actually I did not find it too bad and the path also seemed quite popular with walkers.  This is the path heading towards Lolworth – as you can see the skies were somewhat grey and every now and then it started sprinkling a little rain.  Several times I wondered whether to stop and put on my rain jacket or perhaps even take refuge in a bus shelter. Normally I tend to make up my mind too late and get wet – this time around it never actually started really raining – so it wasn’t a problem.

This is the view south-west along an unnamed brook with a car parked up somewhere along it. The brook (going the other way) seems to make its way through to the River Great Ouse near Over.

As I passed through Lolworth (don’t blink you’ll miss it) there was another Street Party that looked about to happen and a variety of bicycles and some cyclists in old-fashioned dress. I think my Lycra shorts would have given the game away if I’d tried to snaffle some food. The bridleway passes Yarmouth Farm which does have Private Road signs – which can be off-putting but this is a bridleway and is put there to reasonable discourage short-distance walkers from clogging up their access. So actually it probably also helps to keep it clear for cyclists and horse riders as well. The bridleway does get a little bumpy as you close in on Boxworth, but only for the last short bit. You do pass an interesting building – Manor House Farm.

At this point I came across a lady walking her three Labradors, she looked a little worried as I approached and she grabbed one of the dogs. But nothing untoward happened they seemed unconcerned and I would have been a bit surprised Labradors are normally pretty reasonable. Although my brother was once attacked by one when we were kids. We were walking down the road and an OAP had one on a lead, my brother gave the dog a wide berth, wider than the rest of us gave it. Suddenly the dog had leapt up at my brother and bit his arm, then OAP started hitting the dog with a bit of the lead to make it let go.

After Boxworth I could have carried on a bridleway route to Conington, but took a road route to Elsworth instead. I followed Rogues Lane out of Elsworth. A search of the web brings up the tragic news of a fatal car accident in December last year. I turned off along a bridleway opposite Elsworth Lodge which features in the news from 22nd September, 1816, with various farm items for sale.  Apparently there was either four months credit on bargains above £5 or a discount of six pence in the pound for cash. (That was in the days when it was 6d and there were 240 pence to the pound, so a 2.5% discount.

The bridleway heads along the concrete road to Pitt Dene farm and then turns left just pass the house, still on a concrete track. The view of the Cambridgeshire countryside is pretty good as at this point the elevation is around 45m whereas Conington and Fenstanton are around 10m above sea level. As you might expect there are a lot of yellow fields around.

Just off the path was a trailer with the shell of a car on it.

This is a close-up of a strip of woodland alongside what appears as Red Hill Farm on the 1930s OS map.

There are few signs along this bridleway but having been on it once before going the other way it was pretty easy to follow this time around. At one point as you are heading along the farm track there is this mud track through the middle of the field – which is the route of the bridleway. It was bumpy but this view is after I had reached the bottom and since you have gravity helping it did not seem too bad.

Hilton is a picturesque village that I thought was smaller than it is. Like several places I had passed through already this village was holding a Royal Wedding street party and there were road closures. (Which I sneaked past). I then headed out to the bridleway without realising I had taken the wrong road out of Hilton. I was on the Hinton Road to Fenstanton. On the way out I took this picture from a cottage called Field’s View – what a field and pretty yellow it is as well.

As I reached Fenstanton I realised I had taken a wrong turn somewhere along the line, so I stopped checked the map realised what had happened. and then turned around. Although before I did I took a picture of yet another dilapidated building in a field – this does seem to have been around for a while, at least since the 1930s according to the OS map.

Having re-traced my footsteps (pedals pushed) to Hilton I realised it was bigger than I thought and I saw a whole new side to it. I had not been along the B1040 on the Huntingdon side before.  It was not far before I reached the bridleway by Five Arch Bridge passing over West Brook. I meant to look out for the bridge but the excitement of “getting lost” and the making up for lost time whilst hoping my GPS battery would last drove it out of my mind. Not that it really mattered if my GPS did stop working – I was hardly in the wilds and didn’t need it to navigate – maybe I should have used it to track my route – but that would have taken the fun out of it.

There was another shorter byway route near Hilton – but this one seemed more interesting and they both joined up. West Brook seems to flow along side this track and unsurprisingly the track is called Brook Side.

.This is the sort of bridleway I like cycling along – a decent surface, beautiful countryside that feels pretty secluded even if the A14 isn’t that far away. I stopped after passing the Oak tree thinking that’s an oak tree I’ll take its picture and then head back to get a close up of the leaves just to prove to myself I can easily identify them. This was taken looking back the way I and come and just after passing a jogger. I must have looked a bit weird or lost cycling one way then the other and then stopping to take pictures of some leaves.

There you are – oak leaves – unmistakeable.

After passing the other byway the track does a dog leg onto Mere Way. You won’t get lost there are those helpful Private Track signs around to welcome you if you don’t take the dog leg. Here is a nice map showing the route from Five Arch Bridge through to Hemingford Grey. At one point you pass through this small patch of wood

As it turns out the Mere Way is Public Bridleway No. 13.  I had just come from the right and in fact my route carried on along a road marked as Mere Way on the map I linked to.  There is a barrier across the entrance though so it looks as if you should turn left – don’t

The road is a tarmac road that has seen better days. As I cycled along past Topfield Farm there were cones across the road although the Hemingford Abbots Parish Council map shows it as a public right of way. Perhaps they were also planning a street party. I carried on through and passed a group of five cyclists coming the other way.

I was still feeling under time pressure both because I had set out later than planned and because my GPS was not fully charged. However I also managed to get lost in Hemingford Grey and missed the NCN51 turn to Hemingford Abbots. I headed for Meadow Lane and Black Bridge and crossed Hemingford Meadows. (The Cambridge to Huntingdon railway line used to pass this way.) I then reached Houghton Mill and of course dismounted, much to the surprise of one dog walker who said I couldn’t be from Cambridge. All Cambridge cyclists law-breakers – surely not! This link shows pictures of the Flood of 2000 from Houghton Mill.

I then headed out along Thicket Road which looks as if there is a possibility of some development occurring between St Ives and Houghton. This is another place where the road then becomes a footpath – but judging by local custom it enjoys wide use as a cycle route. I am not surprised since the alternative road route on the A1123 is, to put it mildly, unpleasant.

As I passed through St Ives it looked as if celebrations had been had there as well – I did pass a police car with a few police officers getting out – trouble?

I was still trying to keep a reasonable pace, but did quickly stop once on the CGB route to take a picture of the water sparkling in one of the many lakes at this end of the CGB.

Another stop a bit further along to take a picture of the lily pads.

I did not stop for a while – in fact I felt despite the not very helpful wind that I made good, brisk progress. Mind you if you are expecting the high-quality cycle path to be completely dry think again. Having said that there was only one place where I had to detour around a bit of flooding. The other areas were dry although as i was trying to cycle quickly I almost lost my front wheel as it washed out. (Basically as you ride along and try to steer, the front wheel skids away from under you.) There is quite a lot of loose gravel in the previously flooded parts of the track – take care.

A bit further along I noticed that there were notices along the “entrances” of the CGB. Let me show you how it reads to me:

“Despite what you might think – you’re not welcome – yes we mean you, the public – you who paid for this. We know you got used to BAM Nuttall not having a clue when it will be finished – we are proud to uphold that tradition – we haven’t a clue and if we had we wouldn’t tell you anyway. So ignore all the Public Bridleway signs – we were just fibbing – this ain’t a right of way and Public Servants – pah stuff the Public and we ain’t servants.”

If you go to the website link there is no mention of the “NO PUBLIC ACCESS” (as of 1st May 2011). No they want you to find out that little nugget when it is too late and you get here.

At this point I am afraid along with many others I ignored the notice – flip it was a Bank Holiday – the likelihood of work taking place nil  and anyway the handover was on the 21st April and BAM Nuttall have 28 days in which to fix things – so by my reckoning unless early agreement is reached between Cambridgeshire County Council and BAM Nuttall (there would be a first) they can’t start work until 19th May.

Just a reminder the CGB is over two years late the only thing that has been of use is the path for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. For the whole sorry saga: NoGuidedBus. This is the Swavesey stop in case you were wondering.

A look back along the high quality path, to be given a blacktop surface at some indeterminate point in the future.

When it does run there will be some nice views of the countryside for the passengers, especially from the top deck.

When I got home I felt absolutely exhausted although I did have a full record of the ride as the battery in my Garmin GPS was sufficiently charged. I had also picked up my first stingle (sting from a stinging nettle) of the year – that’s what comes of wearing sandals to cycle in. It is a bit like the first cuckoo of the year only more painful.

I also noticed vignetting on my pictures as I mentioned previously and worked out that it had been made worse by a polarising filter I had stuck on the lens. Unfortunately it didn’t do a lot for the pictures either.

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