Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Reach for the Fair (part 1)

Monday, 2nd May: It was May Day today, another public holiday and also the day of the Reach Fair.  Reach was granted its charter to hold the Fair by King John in 1201.  As I have mentioned previously the Cambridge Cycle Campaign  has, over the last few years, organised  a mass cycle ride to the Fair from Cambridge (pdf). I was intending to join it, but I was late getting ready that day and it was also pretty nippy despite being a lovely sunny day so I didn’t.  As it happens the start was staggered this year so I did pop out and take a few pictures on the way out and then nipped back later to take a few pictures of cyclists on their way back again.

I didn’t actually attend the Fair, I have been, once, but it is quite a busy intense fair with some fairground rides and various other entertainments (Maypole dancing and Morris Men for example), which isn’t my cup of tea. I do like roller coasters such as Nemesis, Oblivion and Air at Alton Towers to name but a few.  (I’ve been to a few others in the UK as well.)

The last time I bumped into MikeC he mentioned that there is a permissive bridleway across Tubney Fen so I thought I would give it a go. I have cycled around and about Wicken Fen many times taking both marked and unmarked paths to see where they might lead so it was a surprise to see that there was one I had long overlooked.  It does appear on this Wicken Fen NT horse-riders map. It is on Map 2 and marked with a blue dashed line to warn riders that it is un-segregated from livestock. So I have included the map for the ride since it has been a route I had overlooked and is actually quite surprising. The bridleway is better than many a byway or Boat I’ve been on. It is certainly a more pleasant track to cycle along than parts of, say. Newnham Drove.

Here is the Bike Route Toaster Link to the map shown below. It is a little over 50Km or 30 miles in length and pretty much flat. Alright there are some slight slopes after passing under the A14 on the way out of Cambridge and around Swaffham Bulbeck but if you are with children who grumble at hills they will barely have time to have started grumbling before they are up them. 

Mind you what anyone would have been entitled to grumble about was the wind. If you check out the University DTG weather graphs then the wind was from the north-east all the time. The wind was also at its peak from around 12noon to 4pm at around 25knots peak gusts, which is 28.7 mph or 46.3 Km per hour. It was sunny though, although even that dipped between 12noon and 5pm. It made for quite a chilly ride, surprisingly. More on that later.

The route chosen by the Cambridge Cycling Campaign headed out of Cambridge followed NCN51 to Reach and then back via a bit of the Lodes Way before re-joining NCN51 in Bottisham.  This bit is near the Quy Mill Hotel. It was the Newmarket Road before they built what is now the A14 and a roundabout (the Quy roundabout. They did build an small underpass which conveniently allows cyclists and walkers to avoid the Quy Roundabout. By the time I reached this spot I did wonder whether I had completely missed all the cyclists as they were only coming through in dribs and drabs, I passed some on my way out – the wind was pretty unpleasant although the route out so far has a bit of shelter.

After short while these three came through. one of the great things about the Reach Cycle Ride is the eclectic mix of cyclists and cycles that you get to see. I was glad I didn’t have a flag on my bike though it was bad enough. the ‘bent looks to be a good idea though – a bit more streamlined.

I headed back towards the underpass to see whether there were any more cyclists – but when I got there the road was bare. The skies were blue and I was in the lee of the wind.

After what was really only a short while a few more appeared. cycling up the “hill”. For what is a cycle route and hotel access road this path has a lot of street-lighting. I wonder if they all get lit at night. There were two groups a family and a couple. “Are we nearly there yet”?

I took a picture looking towards Quy after they passed. The slightly dispiriting thing was after you climbed the “hill” and turned the corner you found yourself cycling into what seemed to be a gale.  At they age they haven't quite twigged the benefits of drafting, nor would it be terribly safe.  As you can see this small access road has loads of street lights although some seem to be leaning somewhat precariously.

After that I headed up towards the crossing near the church and waited for what seemed like ages for the lights to change.  Just as I was about to cross I noticed that a whole group had caught me up. Being a shy, retiring sort of photographer, I don’t really like to just point my camera and take pictures of the faces of complete strangers. So I let them go past and took pictures of their bottoms instead!

The NCN51 route between Quy and Bottisham follows a shared-use path that is pretty good for tidal flow cycling (out in the morning and back in the evening) but not so good when you are going against the flow as this cyclist was. The surface is flat and pretty smooth, it even has white dashed lines along the edges – but it is not very wide.  Cycling like this really can be very sociable, but these sorts of paths don’t help.

As the group progressed I kept stopping taking my camera out, taking a picture, popping it back again and catching them up.  The trouble was it took a while just to stop and get the camera out by which time they have travelled away.  The route was certainly looking verdant. As you can see the hedge encroaches somewhat although it does get trimmed and most cyclists tend to cycle in the middle or even slightly further over. You would also bang your head if you were on a Penny-farthing, not that I saw any today.  I did see a Trandem though (actually really referred to as a Triple – there were no Goodies and I did not have my camera at the ready sorry.)

After all the excitement I decided to head along the return route.  So I cycled back down to Quy along the Church Road/Stow Road and Main Street and turned off down Station Road. This strange tree looked more interesting in the leaf than it does in the picture.  What you can’t see as you cycle down Station road, but is very difficult to miss on Google Satellite, is Quy Hall on the other side of the road, with some trees separating it from the road. Here is some of the Hall’s history and a view from a hot air balloon.

Once I was on White Fen I could see a whole bunch of cyclists coming towards me. I should really have climbed up the fence at the entrance of White Fen to get a good vantage point for some pictures, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. One of the pleasures of such wonderful off-road riding, especially in large groups, is that it is such a social occasion and you can happily cycle along chatting away, which is what this lot were doing. They also had the wind behind them which helped them to barrel along at a reasonable pace.

Unfortunately I was heading in the opposite direction and despite tinging my bell more and more frantically I found myself slowing right down and then having to hop off the path onto the loose surface alongside the main path (which is for horses I believe) as a female cyclist carried along without a car in the world straight at me.  No harm done – but it shows how what level of infrastructure is required if you really want to be able to support a large shift from cars into cycling and is why the Dutch have such an infrastructure they know what it takes.

Once I got to Swaffham Bulbeck Lode I climbed up the Lode bank and took a picture from a higher vantage point – by this time they were almost exiting White Fen – but as you can see; quite a snake of cyclists, or perhaps that should be a wiggle of cyclists.

From the same bank there was also quite a good vantage point as cyclists headed along the unnamed road past Slade Farm (or Slades Farm, Swaffham Prior Fen).  There was a good collection here enjoying the wind at their backs.

The same group, just behind the first three, only a little closer and the chap in the fluorescent jacket was catching them up.

As I watched it seemed that there was a fairly constant stream, perhaps they had set off in stages to avoid too much over-crowding.  The great thing was that there was all sorts of cyclists from racers to kids all enjoying the Lodes Way.

I also stood at the bottom of the bank watching as people cycled down from the Swaffham Bulbeck Bridge. That is an interesting jacket. You have a sharp left turn to make at the bottom of this slope and there is some loose gravel that can make it tricky for the unwary. Apparently a child did come off at that point. I didn’t see any incidents, but as you can see from this picture he’d got his hand on the brakes.

Today was a day for cycling, with all sorts of bicycles being used, I do like these wicker baskets – this one had a pretty large bike lock in it.  She was also braking as well. In the UK the right hand lever is the back brake, which in this case was the right thing do.  You run the risk of the front wheel washing out if you front-brake and turn on loose gravel.

Here the couple on the bridge are looking at the Lodes Way leaflet checking out the information on White Fen or seeing how far it was to go? The guy at the front looks a little tired and the other yellow-jacketed guy was the speedy one from earlier – but he must have had a rest on the bridge. In fact if you look back to the last two pictures he was chatting to the cyclists looking at the leaflet.

I then set off and bumped into MikeC on a rather splendid vintage bicycle. He was operating as a sweeper and confirmed that the Reach ride approach was to encourage small groups of cyclists to leave at regular intervals rather than one large group.  He was riding behind one such group to provide assistance should it be needed.

He had recommended an old map of the area to me, but having checked, he found that it  was sold out at Anglesey Abbey, so I planned to pop into the NT shop at Wicken Fen to see if I could get it there. I know I could get it on Amazon, but I might was as well support the NT’s work in this area if I can. He also gave me one of the pennies the Mayor was apparently distributing at reach Fair.

By now I was starting to get quite cold, they all had the wind behind them, I was heading into it and had not brought my windproof jacket and the cold was eating into my bones as we stood talking. Mind you I quickly warmed up struggling into the surprisingly strong winds – that is the Fens for you though.

I carried along Lodes Way but turned off towards Upware. Mind you it was great to see that even on that short stretch of public road there were so many cyclists that cars gave them plenty of room and slowed right down to pass them. Reach fair closes the roads in the centre of the village but draws in lots of cars so there were a few more cars around than usual.

As I was cycling along Great Drove I noticed another turf field had been harvested.  It suggests that perhaps there are more houses being built so that the demand for turf to be laid has increased as one or two fields have been harvested recently.

I was pleased to see that my pictures seem to have lost their splodges – the ultrasonic cleaning” must have done the trick.

More to come…

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