Friday, May 27, 2011

No way out of the Hockwold Fens–Part 1

Wednesday, 25th May: You might have detected in my last Post “Round and Round on a Random Byway” that sometimes it can be a challenge to just cycle round the same old routes and also life gets in the way.  So midway through the week not having had the opportunity to get out on my bike (much) for the last few days it was time to make time.  It was also no coincidence that  on Wednesday the weather was also very promising  as you can see from the link. It started cool but quickly warmed up and was very sunny in the morning with an afternoon dip (in sunshine) before some late afternoon sun. (Unlike the graphs on the DTG weather site there was no gap in the weather either!)

I really ought to get better at planning my bunk-off days, as it was I hadn’t managed to clear things until late morning. After last week’s ride around Southery using the regional route 30 (RR30) I had a look on the map to see what lay to the East of Southery.Unfortunately it would seem that Regional Route 30 is the poor relation of the Sustrans routes. The best website is the one I linked to above that is run independently of Sustrans.

In fact until just now as I write up the journey I had not realised that the RR30 route  has a loop on it that used one of the byways I cycled along. Here is a Sustrans map to the loop – you will probably have to zoom in. This loop does not appear on the OSM Cycle map as a Sustrans route around Hockwold cum Wilton and some of the bridleways are missing as well. I have discovered a reference to the loop as a cycle route on the Norfolk Country Council website – route 29 Hockwold cum Wilton, with a map (pdf).

After looking at the map I decided upon the way home: Little Ouse through Prickwillow and it looked as if I could use a byway called Cowle’s Drove to get from Hockwold cum Wilton through to the River Little Ouse and then to the village of Little Ouse. The next thing to decide was how to get there. I was originally planning on cycling through to Mildenhall and then to Lakenheath and then up to Cowle’s Drove near Hockwold cum Wilton. In the end I decided to be a little more adventurous and picked a route that went through Mildenhall Woods (or at least the woods next to Mildenhall and then via Undley to Lakenheath.

Then depending upon how easy the off-road routes were to ride I would either carry on up  to Cowle’s Drove or cycle along a byway just before crossing the Ely Norwich railway line to Brandon and back either along the RR30 route to Hockwold or detour along a BOAT just to the North of Weeting.

In the end the route I took is shown below, almost! I followed the route shown but also cycled along Cowle’s Drove, shown as a hand-drawn read dotted line – up to the circle with blocked next to it. At this point I reached the River Little Ouse, but has misinterpreted the map the path shown is not a right of way (black dashes rather than red dashes) for about a kilometre.  Now that does not usually stop me, but in this case the path was on the bank of the river and overgrown with grass, thistles and stingles (stinging nettles)   and I was wearing shorts and sandals. So I re-traced my steps.  The route shown is available on this Bike route Toaster Link and is 130Km/ 81 miles long. In my case I went somewhat further because of my ride along half of the red dotted line and back. 

The route is flat most of the byways are cycle-able and indeed very pleasant, but not all, I got off and walked along one section so if you do the route I would suggest going north where the Weeting BOAT hits a t-junction rather than south. This would take you through Feltwell  and then to Corkway Drove. Mind you I have cycled along that bit of the Northern BOAT so who knows.

It started of quite cool that morning and although the sun was shining and the temperature was climbing when I set off I did take a fleece and thin rain jacket with me just in case. I also took two water bottles of lemon squash, a packet of jelly babies, a packet of Tesco “Island Mix” and two ice-cold cans of diet coke.

I broadly followed NCN51 out of Cambridge, but cycled through the middle of Swaffham Bulbeck rather than around the back (a hill) and as I was cycling through Swaffham Prior decided not to cycle through Reach but to use the main road instead.  The main road does have a shared use path alongside the road for the bit between Swaffham Prior and Burwell. This was the scene of a tragic death in January when a cyclist was in collision with a motorcycle.

After Burwell I headed out along the Ness Road to Fordham. Now I have cycled past this stone many times and along a byway between those houses in the background – Tollgate Farm and Ness Farm, but I have never paid any attention to it. as you can see it commemorates a Toll Gate removed a little over 100 years ago.

As I had quite a chunk of unknown off-road cycling ahead of me I followed the B1102 through Fordham  (except I went the other way around Fordham) and then through Freckenham, Worlington (in Suffolk) to Mildenhall. There is where I was to find my first bit of unknown, to me, bridleway.

By now the sun was shining strongly and it was quite warm and as I turned off the road onto the bridleway there was the scent of a warm pine forest in the air.  the say smell is a very evocative sense and immediately I was transported to some cycling I had done a few years ago in Oregon. There was that immediate well of warm summer and the track was good, there was no-one around and it was what cycling is all about for me. (well not all but quite a lot.)Smile

I did have a paper map to hand and had highlighted the route I wanted, which didn’t follow the obvious “track-road” all the way through the woods.

The bridleway followed a decent, but thinner track through the woods and ferns. This is to one side of the path – it wasn’t that wild a route.

I did wonder whether I should have brought a helmet with me. I don’t think byways are too much of a problem but single-track through the woods can sometimes be a little more challenging. But I hadn’t, what I did do though was raise my sunglasses to ensure that I could see the track clearly in the shade.

The bridleway jiggles about a bit in the woods and was not always the most obvious route but I found my way along it. In fact I started to think maybe I have got this navigation business sorted out. Although it does seem to have taken more than one score years to sort out some would say more than two even. The route then converted to a byway, although not as good initially as the bridleway at the start before reaching Eldon Drove and then Eldon Lane (on the right of the Streetview link). 

I cycled through Holywell Row looking for the next byway to appear on my right. This one had no signs and at first looked as if it might be someone's drive but the position of the phone box confirmed it and I cycled up it, the byway not the phone box.

It was not too promising to start as it thinned a bit, but after a while it opened out before running down the middle of a strip of wood. It had one of those imaginative names – Fen Lane.

The route then followed a country lane through Wilde Street past this farm with what looks like a Hawk jet parked on the grass (as used by the Red Arrows). They just don’t build garages large enough nowadays. Perhaps it is used for crop-spraying?

And here is one I prepared earlier. It was taken nearly six years ago at the Silverstone 2005 GP. Whilst I love cycling and try to ensure I cycle more miles (or kilometres) than I drive I am still captivated Formula 1.  I will go out of my way to watch the GP races on TV throughout the season whereas if the Tour de France is on I will watch it but I just don’t go out of my way and frankly just don’t find it so compelling a spectacle. I know it is weird – but hey I’ve never claimed to be normal. You should be able to click on the picture if you want a better view. Mind you it was only a 3MPixel camera so don’t hope for too much,

By now it was simply a glorious day – the sun was shining brightly it was warm and there was not that much wind – it was a day made for cycling around country lanes.  On the way to Undley Common I stopped just to take a picture of the wisps of cloud in the blue sky.

A little bit further along this back way into Lakenheath and despite there not being so much irrigation taking place the crops seemed to be growing well in the fields.

On the outskirts of Lakenheath I crossed over this cut-off channel which winds its way from Mildenhall and the River Lark to Denver Sluice. According to Hansard it was built during the 1950s and expected to be finished by 1963 according to an MP’s question to Mr parker the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It is 25 miles/ 40Km long.

By the looks of things it is left unkempt.

My plan was to cross the High Street in Lakenheath and head along the Broom Road along a byway and then round the back of the town past Maidscross Hill and on to another byway. I hadn’t quite realised that my chosen route had a segment of footpath, but it was short and I didn’t meet anyone on it. I did have to duck to avoid the odd branch encroaching onto the path though.  As you can see the soil surface here was quite sandy.

After this I was heading for a byway leading of Maids Cross Hill (road) which I had checked out too thoroughly on the map. I now see, as I write this and check the map for names that the byway is called Sandy Drove – and that it was. After struggling along it for around a half a kilometre I trudged back to the road.  My wheels just kept bogging down in the sand. My track can be seen right of centre. I rarely give up  -  but I still had a fair bit of distance to go and quite a few unknown tracks to explore. 

When i reached the road I had to stop clean the sand out of my sandals and of my feet, cycling with sandy feet is not pleasant. There was a good view of the airbase through- it is quite impressive.

So in the end I cycled through the middle of Lakenheath on the B1112 and back over the Cut-off Channel but only a short way up the B1112. Just before the Level Crossing (and Hiss Farm) I turned right along a byway that runs parallel with the railway over to Brandon.  Mind you a short while along the byway and I found myself crossing the Cut-off Channel yet again. The is the railway bridge up further the channel.  It looks rather weedy – it must have lost some of its importance in terms of the drainage of the area. (That is the view looking north.)

The channel the other way looks a little clearer, but shows it age – the tree development is pretty impressive.

This is the bridge – an agricultural bridge really, there was a weight limit on it – set at 17 tonnes – see item 4.

The byway was quite a decent track and I even managed to stop, get my camera out of its bag, turn it on and take a picture of a passing train. In fact this was the only one I saw – so the line can’t be that busy.

To be continued…


  1. Military aeroplane

    is a Hawker Hunter F6, serial XG210. Repainted since this photo was taken. There's another near to Cambridge at Waterbeach Barracks, but be careful with a camera there, because the soldiers guarding the gate will get upset if any part of the barracks is in the frame.

  2. Thanks Mike, I should have taken a more side on picture. It was a shame about the instrument panel being stolen. An odd thing to do.