Sunday, May 8, 2011

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

Friday, 6th May: Just to recap this is Part 5 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 Part 3 during the week. When I came to write Part 4 Blogspot was read-only.  A Google 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.

The info is sparse from Google on what is happening and so I have carried on in the hope that Part. 3 will reappear and I won’t have to rewrite it. The lack of news did spur me into getting a Twitter account though. @KeepPTPedals. I do wish Google would hurry up and get it back though – please.

This bit covers the last leg of my journey from West Walton, just to the north of Wisbech, back home to Cambridge, mainly off and on NCN11, but with a little but of NCN1

After West Walton the route is not too difficult to follow, but it does seem to jig around quite a lot. When I say route I mean NCN1 which in this instance goes from Wisbech to King’s Lynn, but actually is a major cycle route from the Shetland Islands to Dover.

On the way through Walton Highway I stopped at a shop and got some more drinks, one fizzy and the other “healthier”.  On a long an dry day I like the way fizzy drinks seem to cut through the layer of dust in your throat, along with any flies stuck in there as well.

According to my GPS I seemed to try to take a wrong turn in Walton Highway, but I can’t quite remember why though. After Walton Highway (the name of the village)  you head out onto the Lynn Road and cross over the A47 (a bridge) and then turn back off to the right, just after crossing the road, onto West Drove (although it is a road). It looks as if a number of roads have been rudely interrupted by the A47 in this part of the world. It is a busy road and not one I would want to cross without a bridge though.

This is where the route does jig north and south a bit with a fair number  of roads around the area to choose from. The roads were typical very small country roads though with very little traffic around and the skies were wide open and blue.

I stopped at Subscription Bridge (just by Tilney Fen End) to take pictures of the endless fields which seem to head off into the wilderness. When you look at the map there are quite a few country lanes around and it would have been fairly straightforward to take a detour and head south more directly to Downham market.

Mind you having said that – the population density does not look that high, with what appear to be random farmhouses dotted around the fields. The land is so flat that you don’t really get a sense of the roads around you much until you happen upon them.

Just after setting off from the bridge I stopped to take a picture of this drain – the drainage in the fens does not come for free. The ditches and drains need constant maintenance to ensure the free flow of water in them, especially when it matters – in times of potential floods. The road I was travelling along was flanked by Drains on either side. To the left was Smeeth Lode (drain) and Black Ditch Drain and to the right Mill Basin (Drain) and near Subscription Bridge Cross Drain.

Not so far south a railway line used to run between King’s Lynn and Wisbech. The railways used to employ hundreds in the area at their peak, with a branch line from Watlington over to Wisbech.  The area is also apparently designated as An Area of Important landscape Quality (open) in designated “Countryside” (it is a pdf document – search for Subscription Bridge after opening it).

The area to the south is called Marshland Fen and appears to have been selected as a possible wind farm site. Mind you I can’t quite work out what happened – there is no recent news on the linked website. Did it happen or not?

On the right-hand side of the road is a pumping station – which is also marked as a Museum on the map. However there was a sign outside stating the it was Green Bank Pumping StationNo Unauthorised Entry.  I was hoping to find a bit more – but there are only three hits from the strict search “Green Bank Pumping Station”, all  pdfs. They come from the Water Management Alliance though. A closer look at the building does show that there is a Museum sign and I have found a reference to it being open once a month in the summer.

A little bit further along the road is a rather nice brick bridge – here the Lode has not recently been cleared. There is a fair old amount of cow parsley on the right bank as well.

At this point there was a minor hiccup; a closed road. As you can see from the Sustrans sign on the Give Way pole, NCN1 is straight on – which happens to have been the way I was planning on going. Normally I tend to ignore Road Closure signs, they rarely apply to people on foot and in many cases you can carry on cycling anyway. However this was towards the end of a long day with a reasonable distance of over 150Km (94 miles) cycled and 70Km (44 miles) to go, as it turned out. So I decided discretion was the better part of – well not cycling too far.

There was also a sign to the right indicating that it was part of the Two Rivers Cycle Route. This appears to be the name given to Regional Route 30 and it was only 98 miles to “westoft” – aka Lowestoft. I didn’t realise that the Two Rivers route got this far, or to be more accurate that Sustrans NCN RR30 got this far. A look at the Sustrans map does not actually show this route and if you look at the Where’s The Path website of the area you can see that there is a small stub on the OSM Cycle Map.  I sometimes wonder why there is so much secrecy associated with cycle routes on the roads. Normally Sustrans does show proposed routes some time in advance.

If you look at the the Route-30 website then there is a link (pdf and very slow) showing the 30 route co-incident with NCN11. Actually as this point in time neither the OSM Cycle map nor the Route 30 map show what I believe is the actual route on the ground near the Power Station.

A quick look at the map showed it heading in the right direction though, so I set off – planning to get to Downham Market as my next major route point. This is a view of Peter’s Drove bridge taken from Magdalen Bridge. The stretch of water has the rather pragmatic name of Middle Level Main Drain, which drains into the River Great Ouse. It originates near Chatteris.

After passing through Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalen (I assume it is all one name) you pass over another stretch of water – River Great Ouse on another Magdalen Bridge.  They certainly weren’t profligate with names around here. The water levels look pretty low to me and the water is pretty brown – all that fenland soil is being washed away up to the sea.

Pretty soon after there is another stretch of water to cross on Magdalen New Cut Bridge. This is a Relief Channel which runs parallel with the River Great Ouse from Denver Sluice. The two re-join at King’s Lynn Power Station. That bridge that looks somewhat like a railway bridge is, or rather was a railway bridge. It carried the Watlington to Wisbech Branch Line I mentioned earlier. The OS map does not show a railway bridge over the River Great Ouse – so that was presumably removed.

I cycled along Station Road into Watlington past the Railway Station and then joined NCN11

I did not bother following the Sustrans route precisely through Downham Market, I was more interested in getting home and the route does have an unnecessary loop. There is a pleasant off-road route out though and through Denver and on to Denver Sluice. I have cycled along this bit of the route quite a few times, normally heading towards King’s Lynn but I have cycled back down it a few times as well. Despite it starting to get gloomy I noticed there was a small “airfield” just over the way from the Sluice Road.

Instead of following NCN11 out towards Welney Washes I took a more direct route alongside the River Great Ouse, on Ten Mile Bank (Fens Cycleway – southern loop) . A search for  “Fens Cycleway” shows my blog as the top few hits. It is called that on the Sustrans Map though and appears as a map for sale on this Price List at £4. At this point the wind was against me – but it was not too bad. If anything it is more in the mind than anything. Hilgay Bridge which crosses the River Great Ouse at (the place called) Ten Mile Bank is along the Regional Route 30. The OS map calls it Modney Bridge though. I hadn’t appreciated that there was a railway station here (Hilgay)– it was closed in 1963. That might be because Hilgay was a few miles from its rather remote station.

The odd thing about this road is that despite being seemingly so remote with the picturesque river alongside you do hear serious traffic noise from time to time. The A10 between Cambridge and King’s Lynn is the other side of the river, out of sight, but not out of hearing.

As you can see the sun was getting close to the horizon. Sunset in these parts is around 8.30pm for this time of year.

The fields do start to look a little bleak as it gets darker.

I generally don’t give much thought to the drainage of the Fens but actually there are loads of Pumping Stations all over the place. The River Great Ouse is to the other side of the road and quite a lot higher than the surrounding land, which means there needs to be some form of pump to take water from the land drains up, to the river.

When I looked for a bit of information there was this interesting (well I thought so) website about Ten Mile Bank. Their history timeline mentions the Ten Mile Bank bridge toll (1929) being removed and a train crash at Hilgay Station (1939). In 1842 the Pumping Station was rebuilt with an 80hp steam engine. Actually I am not sure this is Ten Mile bank Pumping Station I think that is back up the road at Ten Mile Bank. The trusty Streetview (unlike Blogger – not so trusty at the moment) shows that this is New Ten Mile Pumping Station. Apparently it was opened on May 26th, 1975 with the Littleport and Downham Internal Drainage Board being responsible.

There is also a reference to the Ouze Bridge railway station opening in 1847 and then the Ouse Bridge railway station closing in 1864.

As I was cycling home I did have a problem, if I wore sunglasses it made it even dimmer and yet if I didn’t then flies seemed to aim right for my eyes.  In the end I turned on my lights when I reached Littleport and I carried on on the road alongside the River Great Ouse through Queen Adelaide and then joined NCN11 as it went off-road alongside the River Great Ouse (again).

Actually I turned on my lights in flashing mode – until I reached the off-road bit. It was bright enough for me to see, I was more interested in being seen. I do think that motor vehicles tend to give you more room at night with flashing lights. They seem to find it harder to judge quite what and where you are they tend to err on the side of caution – at least I hope they do.

I think the cows grazing along that bit of the route were a little bemused to see me come through – but I hope I didn’t scare them too much. When I got to Wicken Fen – along Burwell Fen I turned my lights off again – I knew where the path was and wasn’t really worried about anyone else being on the path at that time of night. Except perhaps for MikeC who put the idea into my head as he does the same.

It is rather good to cycle along in the solitude lit only by the moon. I put them back on for the cattle grids over Newham Drove and to travel along the fenced in bit of Lodes Way. A deer and fawn were also on the path between the two fences. My arrival caused some desperate attempts by mother and fawn to get through the fence. The mother jumped it, but the fawn couldn’t.  I managed to get past without herding it all the way down to Reach lode bridge but it made me wonder whether all this extra fencing is really so nature–friendly.

Talking about nature I heard several cuckoos on my travels and 20-odd (well some were in pairs so that would be evn) magpies.

I have to say it was pleasant to get home, I had not had any problems sitting on the saddle, but did notice that when I got into a hot bath that I was a little tender in my nether regions. That was one of the longest rides I have done in a while and certainly this year. I might not be fast but I have endurance.  I did notice that I was also a little stiff, which is why I had the hot bath however apart from one very minor twinge of cramp the ride was actually not too hard on my old body.

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