Monday, May 23, 2011

A Wicken Fen Wander part 1

Thursday 19th May: After the slightly wet ride yesterday and because the first half of the week was devoid of opportunities to cycle I felt entitled to a mid-afternoon spin in the countryside.  Which in my case means a ride in the Wicken Fen area.  This is accessible countryside not too far from Cambridge without too many motor vehicles on the roads and a pretty reasonable selection of inter-connected byways, bridleway, cycle ways, shared-use paths and country roads to choose from. At the same time you can also visit the Wicken Fen nature Reserve and escape the farming mono-culture that we seem to have wished upon ourselves as a society.

You can't blame the farmers – in the general scheme of things they don’t really have that much power – I believe that it resides with the small number of supermarkets.  According to this paper “Supermarket Profitability Investigation” (pdf) on Page 8 a chart of the grocery Market share by retailer over the period 2002 to 2007 indicates that Tesco’s market share as increased from 7.4% to 20.2% whilst the entire group of smaller grocery stores have seen their market share fall from 24.9% to 14.9%. Indeed the top 4 supermarkets together have a market share of approximately 65%. Although to be fair the paper (P18) also discusses the margins at various points in the supply chain and not all products have seen the Supermarkets increase their margin at the expense of suppliers. Although there have been examples of such squeezes on categories like beef, lamb, milk and fruit in the 90s.

Back to the ride, this a map of my ride and here is the Bike Route Toaster (BRT) link. It is 54Km /33miles in length, flat as usual and not that fast.  It travels over a variety of surfaces some good, some bad and some indifferent.  It does make a pleasant ride though and is best done at a leisurely pace with a drink and snack on board. As it has been so dry the route was quite cycle-able on my Marin hybrid with 25mm tyres.

Heading out along NCN51 though Ditton Meadows and up to Quy is quite a pleasant start to this ride, despite the route using small paths to get out of Cambridge there is no urban decay on show.  It starts to become much more rural though when you reach Quy and after negotiating the Traffic Calming Obstructions Islands it heads out along Station road and picks up the first bridleway.

I could have carried along NCN51 a bit further on from Quy and then turned back along the Albert Road at Dunsley Corner which leads directly onto Station Road but I was planning on returning that way. The bridleway then connects with the route of the railway line between Cambridge and Mildenhall. This is a very straight and flat track and in good condition. You do meet people along here as it is a popular area to walk and ride and cycle. This view looks forward in the Lode direction.

As I cycle along I saw some Lotus corniculatus or rather Bird’s-foot trefoil, which is the name I know it by. According to Wikipedia it generally flowers from June until September, so has come out quite early with the good weather we have been having.  Something I didn’t know is that fresh birdsfoot trefoil  contains cyanogenic glycosides and is poisonous to humans. Also in the language of flowers it represents revenge or retribution and is one of the few “negative” flowers. Whilst I am on that theme asparagus represents fascination!

This is the view looking back towards Quy, the line of trees/hedgerow intersecting the path is the bridleway I cycled in on. In this case I came in from the left as seen on the picture. The route to the right takes you over to Horningsea.

As I was on an amble I cycled off the route along Dam Drove (near  Anglesey Abbey), a left turn and than along Fen Head Drove in the Quy Fen direction for a little way before heading back to Lode along Harvey’s Droveway.  There are a few of the obligatory bits of agri-abilia knocking around with a disc harrow, a building and a bowser near Fen Head Drove.

Harvey’s Droveway has been levelled out across its width.  I tended to cycle along the extreme left where the mud was still hard-packed.  Whilst this method of path repair is good for vehicles with large tyres it can be hard work on a bicycle with thin tyres as you get wheel spin, so I was just being lazy.

As the route crosses into Lode over Bottisham Lode it uses a bridge that seems to be slightly out of line with the route of the (now missing) railway track. However there has been a bit of clearance taking place alongside the bridge and you can see the supports which carried the railway bridge across the lode across the lode. In this link the first two pictures show the old Bottisham and Lode Station – they can be clicked on.  Here is a Wikipedia picture from 1963:

Here is the bridge.

A few yellow water iris (Iris pseudacorus) growing in Bottisham Lode alongside Fen Road on the way through to White Fen.

After crossing White Fen I decided to pop on up the byway alongside Swaffham Bulbeck Lode as I hadn’t been up that way for a while. The rain we had yesterday was nowhere near enough for the crops growing in the fields. The good news is that Anglian Water have confirmed that there won’t be a hosepipe ban in the region and that their reservoirs are 90% full despite the particularly low level of rainfall recently.

At the end of the lode where it meets the River Cam is a lock and pumping station. Apparently the headroom below the guillotine gate is too low for boats to enter the lode.  I like the way that the water in this picture (HDR) seems almost not to have a surface.

The guillotine lock and pumping house. I found this report on extending the navigable reach of the Great Ouse System which indicates that this lode could be made navigable down to Cow Bridge, near Swaffham Bulbeck.

I am surprised that when this gate was built it was deemed no longer important to be able to get a boat through.  It is a bit like the way in which byways get down-graded to bridleways.

For good measure another picture of the pump building – the sign indicates that it is Swaffham Pumping Station. This falls into the remit of the Swaffham Internal Drainage Board.  The district covers a total pumped catchment of 6070ha and covers high grade agricultural land considerably below “flood-level”  and is concerned with drainage and conservation.

It always strikes me as an interesting point that the flatlands are both highly prone to flooding and yet we have one of the lowest levels of rainfall in the UK.

This is the byway, taken as I as on my way back down (I did stop though). The lode bank is to the right and substantially higher than the ground level around it as is the lode.

The path has recently had some repairs to even out the potholes. These paths tend to get gravel loosely packed down, which is fine for large tyres, but a bit energy sapping when cycling a bicycle with thin tyres. The best thing is to keep up an even and speed, not too slow and not too fast.

I didn’t go back all the way to the Lodes Way bridge on the lode, I turned off at Lythel’s Farm and cycled along and down Lord’s Ground Drove. This field was being used to grow turf that last time I looked (I think), but once one “crop” is out they are quickly prepared for the next one.

I also saw a few more green arrows by the road side, one, opposite the exit of Lord’s Ground Farm.

Lord’s Ground Drove  took me back to the Lodes Way and as I cycled along it a large articulated lorry ahead of me carried along Headlake Drove along the route of Lodes Way. I assume that is why there were the green arrows` to guide the lorries along what are not obvious routes. Once it left the ”main” road and headed along the little-used (except by cyclists) route there were huge clouds of dust thrown up. Fortunately for me I was planning on cycling to Upware. Mind you with that cloud of dust I would have changed my plans.

As I have mentioned turf is one of the crops grown around here on the fens, I guess the type of soil and the flatness lends itself to turf and means that when cut the turf is probably lighter to transport than when grown on a heavy soil. Turf does not need such a gentle method of irrigation as some of the smaller salad crops.  However it will certainly need a bit of water when the weather is so dry.  It is a good job that there are a network of ditches and drains around to supply irrigation water.

Apart from the lorry I had seen very few motor vehicles after cycling along Station Road in Quy. I was now on the busiest part of the route the road to Upware from Swaffham Prior. However apart from a little bit of commuting traffic in the morning and late afternoon it never gets too bad.

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