Sunday, May 8, 2011

Pedalling to Peterborough, wheeling to Wisbech and Cycling back to Cambridge Part 1 of 5

Friday, 6th May: It was one of those DESTTAW days (don’t even start to think about work).  I have quite a lot on in the coming week, both during the day and in the evenings. Admittedly one of those evenings is to go and see the Uncaged Monkeys (Robin Ince, Prof Brian Cox, Dr Ben Goldacre and Simon Singh) which isn’t work.  Also my wife was walking that day with some friends and the weather was better than I had expected so I thought I’d go out for the day on my bike. I had worked over some of the Bank Holidays so no guilt on my part.

I packed up some food, small pork pies, some tomatoes, some chocolate biscuits and of course, Jelly Babies. I also filled up two water bottles with lemon squash and a couple of cans of coke that happened to be in the fridge. There was the possibility of showers so I also took a rain jacket and some socks and that was it.  Apart from various tools, camera, radio, zip ties, tubes.  I had in mind to cycle to Peterborough and then across and down so I printed out a map or two of the Peterborough area and across, I figured I knew that other bits well enough. (I also had my GPS.)

The last time I went to Peterborough, by bike, was June 5th, 2009, when it seems a grand total of 7 pictures made it into my Blog. This time around I think there are over 70 so I have split the trip into 5 posts. That way I should be able to get them written without agonising too much over them. Also the last time I cycled that way I didn’t take the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB) Route so for a change I did this time. A quick check of my Post and I also remember breaking a spoke on one rough patch. Mind you the route is never too far from a railway line so my fall-back was to catch a train home. (If that failed well now my daughter can drive…)

The last time my notes indicated I cycled around 185Km/115 miles and I did “budget” for around 160Km/100 miles, however if you follow the Bike Route Toaster link (BRT) to the map shown below the summary of the distance  suggests 220Km/137miles, however I did take a couple of wrong turns and my actual distance was 228Km/142.5 miles a bit further than planned because in the end I followed Sustrans routes and as you can see the Peterborough to Wisbech section involves going an extra bit further north before heading back down to Cambridge.

The route is remarkably flat on the elevation trace shown on BRT, the bit between Huntingdon and Peterborough is the only bit of climbing really – that’s what comes of cycling in the Fens.

This Post covers the bit from Cambridge to Huntingdon – which is mainly CGB related. The CGB has also been in the Press recently – “Keep clear as cycle route surface is laid”. I am afraid I ignored that advice and also the flimsy laminated A4 warning signs stuck on various lamp posts on the CGB. After all I could always turn off it if the going got black and sticky and if it didn’t well this is quite a pleasant and fast cycle route out of Cambridge especially if you want to go a little further afield.

I do think that the advice is having an effect on the (lack of) traffic.  I hadn’t left home quite as early as I had planned, but it was reasonably early and I passed very few cyclists/walkers.  This is the view along the CGB at the Milton end. As you can see the grass is brown because of the lack of rain and there was no-one around.

It seems that the “bush fires” have spread out to the CGB as well though. Mind you those cunning concrete fire traps seem to do the trick, I wonder if they have any other uses?

For the most part one of the other things I like about the CGB cycle path is that it doesn’t take you through grotty industrial wasteland. Since the goal of a Sustrans route seems to be to find a traffic-free route through towns they sometimes end up taking you through the less salubrious parts of a town. This is about as close as it gets for the CGB – somewhere near Histon and you don’t get a sense of urban decay either (well not much, there are some dilapidated buildings near Willingham as well).

At this point in the ride I was feeling pretty good about my planned day out – it was pleasantly warm, although not horrendously so and there was quite a bit of blue sky around as well.

Perhaps I should also mention that there is development activity on the CGB. I must have passed four groups of workers, two groups were doing things and the other two seemed to be resting. In fact one was having a snooze in the his van.  The cycle path has also been staked on either side so this certainly suggests that the tarmac surface should be laid any time soon. This page suggests the beginning of May for the tarmac (but the page can change).  This Cambridge Country Council Press Release also suggests the same thing. The stakes are to mark out the levels. Certainly I saw two workers with a laser theodolite.

As I made progress the clouds seemed to be receding and it was getting warmer, the slightly worrying thing was I also seemed to be cycling faster than normal. I was trying to make good time, but it was a little too easy. The wind was behind me – oh dear – there goes the First rule of Cycling (according to me). You can see why the route is flat – well because it really is flat. That is one of the advantages of converting disused railway lines into cycle route – trains can’t tackle gradients and so the lines tend to be flat.

Early railway tracks in the UK were very gentle with a maximum gradient of 0.05%, even now they are generally not very steep whereas roads can reach 25% or even 33% very occasionally, such as Hardknott Pass in Cumbria – it is not a road I have cycled up – it was pretty steep in the car though. There is even a book on British Rail Gradient Profiles!

At one point it did seem to me that the gaps between the concrete tracks were noticeably variable. I was cycling on the gravel track alongside and from the corner of my eye some gaps seemed to be several millimetres whilst others seemed to have no gap at all. This is what I am talking about. The closest gap is quite large, but on the other side of the same “track” there is very little gap.

The concrete tracks also seem to have notches which makes me think it is to relieve stress caused by the expansion/contraction from varying temperatures.

Here is a close-up of one such notch. As you can see a crack is propagating down the edge and then across the surface of the track. This will be a site for free-thaw damage I would imagine. I wonder what the average working life of these hunks of concrete is?

I did pass a few other people on the CGB, but not many, perhaps it was too early or not the weekend. This is at the St Ives end not far from the “flooding area”.

At last another person – so that’s what all that wooden fencing is for – a bird hide.

For the first time in a long time I managed to cycle along the entire gravel track from Cambridge to St Ives  without resorting to the bank on either side to avoid large puddles (or small ponds or not so small ponds). I did struggle once or twice with my wheels getting bogged down in gravel and there is still a large puddle left in one spot – but it does not quite spread across the high-quality path now.

This is a view back down the CGB from the St Ives park and Ride. Which reminds me I did see what looked like a chunk of the CGB car park in Willingham being dug up.

I passed quickly, or tried to, through a busy St Ives on market day. Apparently there is a market on Mondays and Fridays although the Friday one is smaller. A car in front of me did seem to dither a lot. It was great to head out away from the town along to the Hemingfords – yes there are two links on the one word for Abbots and Grey. As you pass through Hemmingford Abbots you pass along a no-through road which brings you onto a meadow with a tarmac cycle path – this is where Sustrans 51 takes you through to Godmanchester (Godmanchester seems to be “blessed” with websites) and Huntingdon. On the Hemingford Abbots map it is called Common Lane and on the CCC map of the area it is East Side Common Cycleway (and Common Lane).  Actually this is an “uncommon” lane – flat, quite wide and through some lovely meadow. It runs along the route of the disused Cambridge to Huntingdon railway Line.

A common theme of this ride seems to be town avoidance, or at least to not take pictures in towns – there were no pictures of St Ives and neither are there any of Huntingdon.  The last time on this route I got a little lost trying to follow the Sustrans signs, this time I followed my nose and took the ring-road shared-use path rather than go through the middle (despite what my BRT map might indicate.)

The OS map shows the Sustrans route heading out of Huntingdon and through the Stukeleys as being off-road – or rather in the shared-use path, this time around I found myself on the road and stuck with it for a short while and then shifted over. (Have you noticed that round these parts when they like a place name they tend to use its name twice.

For reference the road out of Huntingdon is the B1043 Stukeley Road (no surprise there). It follows the route of an old Roman Road – Ermine Street  (not that you’d get a new Roman Road really). It runs (or ran0 from Londinium (London) to Lindum Colonia (Lincoln) and Eboracum (York)  and had the old English name of Earninga Straete.

To be continued… (the post about the ride – not the Latin stuff! Although I did study Latin at school, which shows my age.)

 Sad smile


  1. I feel your cycle rides are getting more and more ...distant.

  2. I blame it on the ... weather ... weather ... :-)