Sunday, May 8, 2011

Pedalling to Peterborough, wheeling to Wisbech and Cycling back to Cambridge Part 4 of 5

Friday, 6th May: Just to recap this is Part 4 of 5 posts covering my day trip by bike from Cambridge to Peterborough to March, to Wisbech, to Downham market and then back to Cambridge. Here is 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.

In case you are wondering where Part 3 is, well it got caught up in the Blogspot/Blogger problems Google have been having during the week.  I wrote and posted it during the week and after a bit of a problem with it appearing in the wrong sequence it showed up as expected. When I came to write Part 4 Blogspot was read-only.  Some system update had caused some form of corruption and Google have been fixing the problem by reverting to a previous “back up” which pre-dated the system “improvements”. They then, I presume gained system stability and according to their updates are restoring all the latest posts and comments. Unfortunately in that time I have seen the missing Part 3 post appear and then disappear.

What made it more annoying is that I did keep an open copy of that Post on LiveWriter but being Friday the 13th it seems I was due bad luck. My computer also froze after some update from Microsoft for Outlook (to allow it to interface to my Hotmail account) and I think a subsequent McAfee update. On re-booting my computer the Raid drive then had to go through and re-verify things which with a few terabytes of storage takes quite a while and until it completes everything  s…l…o…w…s    d…o…w…n. Whilst that was happening McAfee was reported by Windows as being unavailable. So I am hoping that it (part 3) will reappear and I will carry on with Parts 4 and 5.

I also hate having to re-do something. In the earlier days of computing, crashes were more common. I first started using computers seriously in 1980 and you could quite easily find yourself working on something for a chunk of time only for it to disappear and then you had to redo it. It was before the days of auto-save. In fact this is one of the reasons I an not totally comfortable with Cloud Computing. Let’s face it Google are world-class (best-in-class) they know how to build heavy-duty systems and yet here I am with problems that aren’t of my causing. I prefer a mixed model with data duplicated locally as well as in “the cloud”. Fortunately a blog post is not a big issue in the scheme of things, I can re-write it (and maybe will have to) but it is a reminder of the problems of single points of failures.

Anyway back to the ride. The Missing Post covered the bit of the ride around Peterborough along the Green Wheel (a network of routes around Peterborough) and then on to the point where NCN63 crosses the Greenwich Meridian line. This bit is from the Meridian through to West Walton. I should really have marked the map to show the sections covered. The trouble was I produced the map before deciding quite where how many Posts I was going to split the ride into. One of the reasons was the week ahead was going to be busy and I wanted to make it easy to get the Posts out. As it happens what with one thing and another I am now over a week behind on real-time versus ride-time.  The ride happened on Friday 6th and now it is Saturday the 14th.

As I approached March I was feeling a little bit weary, the wind was blowing across me which is a bit tiresome on a bicycle and the roads where getting just a touch monotonous. They were straight and slightly boring. So my plan was to find a park bench somewhere in March and have a short rest and something to eat. As often happens if you don’t eat regularly on a long cycle ride the idea of food is not actually very appetising. I’ve done this often enough to know that with a drink I would soon feel hungry and a bit of food would help to top up my energy levels. Whilst Jelly Babies are convenient I prefer not to rely on them on a long ride.

I had also had a look at the map and thought I might do a short cut across towards Downham Market by way of Friday Bridge. After all I’d been to Wisbech before. March isn’t a huge place although the Wikipedia article indicates a population of 19,042 in the 2001 Census. Actually what I really mean is that hopefully I would be able to follow the Sustrans NCN63 route through the town. The last time I’d cycled through was after getting a wobbly wheel after breaking a spoke on the rough bridleways near Coates, halfway between Whittlesey and March. That time I stuck with the road route in through the town, this time I followed NCN63 south, knowing that I’d then have to head north. These Sustrans routes do test your mental strength when you are feeling tired.

The route was actually well signed, although it did duck and dive a bit.  At one point I found myself behind a lady on a mobility scooter completely blocking the footpath. She seemed to have a problem and would turn off the scooter, turn it on and move forward 30cm (1ft) then turn it off and on and once again move forward a short way. I stopped, wondering whether to offer help, although if her battery was nearly flat I am not sure what help I could provide. All I can really say in my defence is I still had a long way to go home so I ate a Jelly Baby or two and then went past when the footpath widened a little bit.

On the way through I also passed a small shop and bought something to drink. I got two bottles, one some sort of isotonic liquid which I drank on the spot and I took the other with me. (I also took the opportunity to get rid of some of the empties I’d been carrying.) The interesting thing about March is that the route takes you along the outskirts of a Prison – Whitemoor, built on the site of the old railway marshalling yard. Looking at historical maps (30s and 40s) March was quite a railway crossroads with routes to Huntingdon, Spalding and beyond Wisbech – it is still where three lines meet, but of course the railway network is no longer as extensive. (The March Museum has some slide shows on the Steam days if you are interested in such things.)

Here is a link to information on March Railway Station which indicates that the Spalding line was closed in 1982 and the Wisbech line (aka The Bramley Line) closed in 2001. The latter line has a group trying to get it going but I would imagine it will be quite a task. Whilst looking for information I also came across this group “bettertransport” wanting to see a significant number of old railway lines re-opened.

At one point I did feel that I was cycling too close to the prison as you pass close to the security areas and I decided it was perhaps better not to stop and take pictures. The NCN63 route is sign-posted, but fairly sparsely, having said that I followed my nose and all was OK. You pass through a Nature Reserve which seems to be associated with the prison.

At this point you follow a disused railway line North-North-West out of March. This is that track, this is the sort of cycling I enjoy, especially on a good day and as you can see it was a good day. The great thing is that quite often there is a bit of cover from the wind because the hedges have been allowed to grow and you know it is going to be flat and quite often there is also a bit of local information on boards along the route. The main downside is that the quality of the track surface can be variable. In this case it was fine. The area is now both a Sustrans route (NCN63) and Nature Reserve – Ring’s End.

As you cycle along it there are interesting views through gaps in the hedge as well as stretches where the track is open. This is Sixth District Drain seen through a gap in the hedge with the inevitable Electricity Pylons marching through the countryside in the background.

At this point the route divides into a dry-weather and a wet weather route. The wet-weather route goes down the road on the left hand side of the stretch of water, which is Twenty Foot Road alongside, yes you’ve guessed it – Twenty Foot River (Drain).  The problem in wet weather is not the disused railway line but the bridleway route NCN63 follows after that.

There was a convenient bench here so I sat down and had a rest and a snack in the rather pleasant sunshine. After a short while two cyclists came through saying hello. It was the two lads from Durham mentioned in Post 3 (the missing Post!).

After crossing the road you pass some old railway cottages and an old railway signal with this route in front of you. (Yet more pylons around!).

There are still some of the old Railway sheds alongside the old track bed. I am afraid the perspective went a bit wrong on this but you get the idea.

The off-road route along the railway line takes you even further to the west before eventually you come to a bridleway – Long Drove which runs alongside a drain. This is the track, it does look as if the tracks had a gravel or even tarmac base at one time. Surprisingly, if you stick to the wheel tracks (I prefer the left one) it is pretty easy to cycle along and I made pretty reasonable progress despite having tired legs. Those pylons are where this track meets the road version of NCN63, which looks slightly shorter on the map. I tend to find that even when I am tired off-road routes are just that bit more appealing.

This is the view looking back with the disused railway track just slightly higher on the horizon. I can imagine that this track might not be so pleasant on a dark night in the winter.  The contrail looks as if a plane was following the old railway line. Long Drove then becomes a road (Graysmoor Road and back to Long Drove) alongside Waldersey Drain. The route crosses the Bramley Line although there is still railway infrastructure in place they will have their work cut out restoring it to running order.

Somewhere along the way as I got closer to Wisbech I stopped to take another in my occasional series of pictures of dilapidated farm buildings.  As you can see although it was getting later in the day the weather remained really good.  It was one of those days that just seemed to keep getting better. The only problem was I found myself needing to drink more.

As I approached Wisbech it occurred to me that I was supposed to be finding a short-cut across to Friday Bridge and not Wisbech. It was too late I had overshot so in the spirit oh well I am practically there I thought I might as well carry on on NCN63 and then NCN1.

Now my map shows me following the route through Wisbech, that is not actually what happened though. I found myself on the main central road and carried on and ended up crossing the river twice before cycling along the B198 and finding my way back onto the Sustrans route – NCN1, which at this point was heading North, pretty much directly, so much for a short cut.

I have cycled through Wisbech (Capital of the Fens) a few times and generally find that I miss the Sustrans signs. Ah well this way I would get to see the Church in West Walton – the church tower is not actually physically connected with the main body of the church. According to this sign the Tower is no longer required for regular worship and has been passed over to the Redundant Churches Fund (it happened in 1987 so quite a time ago).

The tower actually sits 60ft to the south of the church. It was built in 1250 after the completion of the main body of the church.

Here is the main body – a church without a tower – St Mary.

Once I’d managed to get far enough away I also got a picture of the tower. Apparently the Parish is the most westerly in Norfolk and only a stone’s throw from Cambridgeshire – mind you to me it felt like I’d got a long way to roll still.

After this brief stop it was time to carry on – no longer heading North! Although if you check out the map it wiggles East quite a lot and there was a Closed Road.

To be continued… (Blogspot willing…)


  1. Chuckle... everywhere you go in the Fens there are Long Droves. I wonder how many there are to bag? Hmmm.

  2. The Fenland equivalent of the Scottish Munros Challenge - if you create the list then you could have it named after you :-)

  3. I just stumbled across your blog and I'd like to congratulate you on the excellent photographs in this post! Well done.

  4. Thank you - I have not been able to post recently but will be back next week.