Thursday 19th May: A quick recap of the ride. This the map 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.
In part 1 I was just on my way up to Upware having visited Swaffham Pumping Station and cycled back along Lord’s Ground Drove.
Just before Upware and indeed just before Reach Lode Lock you pass an area known as The Cam Washes (pdf). As it says on the information board these are grassland areas that naturally flood depending on the rainfall upstream. They are nature’s occasional reservoirs and rather than attempt to drain the areas completely they are used in the management of the drainage areas. The land is also typically used for grazing cows when not flooded and because it is not intensively farmed has a rich variety of flora and fauna. As a result these washes have been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Cambridge has quite a few SSSIs with the Cam Washes being the second largest at 418.3 acres.
The sign suggest looking for the “rodden”, areas of lighter soil marking and old route of the River Cam. This area lies on the Fen Rivers Way a long distance footpath of around 80Km/ 50 miles in length from Cambridge to King’s Lynn.
This is the view looking back towards Burwell – in fact the Electricity sub-station. Burwell Fen Farm can be seen to the left just below the horizon. That area is where the bund has been created. The farmland is quite a bit lower than the bank I was standing on to take the picture. The 0m contour line lies down there.
As I was looking for a quiet ride instead of cycling up to Wicken along the road I cycled along the bridleway next to Reach Lode past what is labelled as Far and Away Farm on the map and next to Swaffham Pumping Station (as labelled) and at the end of Commissioners’ Drain.
This is the view down Reach Lode, there is some smoke on the other side – there must have been a bit of hedge trimming. The bridleway is on the left, although it has only recently been upgraded from a footpath and can appear on maps as a footpath.
A short way down you come to a wooden bridge – Wicken Lode Bridge – which crosses (yes you’ve guessed it) Wicken Lode. This is Wicken Lode and the bridleway carries on down on the right hand side of the Lode.
This is a view of the bridge looking back – it is also known as a Cockup Bridge and is I believe the traditional type of bridge bearing this name. The bridge has slats across the walking area to make it easier for horses to be ridden over it. (The link discusses the Creation Order that led to the footpath becoming a bridleway – and a jolly good job it did to.)
The same bridge but from a little bit further down Wicken Lode.
The bridleway carries on down Harrison’s drove which looks as it if has recently had some “repair” work. This particular bridleway can get very wet and consequently NT traffic along it seems to chew it up very badly. At several places there have been attempts to repair large muddy dips with limited success. At the moment it is so dry that it is not too bad to cycle along. As I cycled along there was a cuckoo flying around calling, although I didn’t manage to spot it. On this sort of track you have to pay attention to the ruts and bumps when cycling.
After a short distance the grass and mud part of Harrison’s Drove leads onto an old concrete track. I believe that many of these were laid in the war as part of the war-time effort to farm the land to provide food for the nation. The track is passable, without too much difficulty – you just have to pick your route, especially where two adjoining slabs of concrete have moved apart (not really suitable for young children I would have thought).
The view from Harrison’s Drove across Adventurers Fen towards Burwell Lode – which is where the trees are. Harrison’ s Drove has apparently also been discussed by the NT User Forum recently (See April 2011). Apparently the NT would like to connect grazing areas each side of it and were considering cattle grids along it and a channel across it as is used on the Maltings Path. Whilst these are OK for cyclists and walkers they are not particularly horse and rider-friendly as additional gates are required and Harrison’s Drove has not got a lot of room. A suggestion for a Cockup Bridge to connect the grazing areas has been suggested instead. This link shows a possible plan and discusses it in more detail.
I then cycled around Wicken Fen on the Maltings Path, around the village and back in through the Wicken Fen Main Entrance. I have moaned about the entrance area before – this is it. The bulk of it is large lumps of loose stone – it does not make for easy cycling and I would imagine would be particularly difficult for younger children on smaller wheel bikes. If there is no-one around I stick to the last remaining bit of the firm path along the right-hand edge. This is also getting chewed up and takes you close to the Lode.
The NT get 9/10 for vision and 2/10 for finishing as far as I am concerned. This is another bit of Wicken Fen that needs tidying up if they are to make a success of their soon to be opened (but don’t hold your breath) bike hire facilities. Whilst old curmudgeons like me can and will put up with grotty cycling facilities I do think that to attract more families then the National Trust has to get a bit better at sorting the final details out – if nothing else this will be perceived as a safety issue.
As I cycled down past the new windpump I saw that the Information Board now has some information. The plan is to pump water from a new ditch connected to Monk’s Lode into Sedge Fen. The sign does indicate that the water in Monk's Lode is very clean which is. I imagine that is why they have created a new ditch rather than take the water from Wicken Lode, despite the fact that the two join a few metres away. The water comes from the chalk hills near Newmarket and is calcium-rich. Their goal is to have Sedge Fen topped up by next Spring which should help prevent it out drying out too much in the Summer.
Some water lilies in Wicken Lode were flowering.
I bumped into MikeC chatting to the lady whose cows graze in these parts. She had come out to check up on them as is her habit. It was one of her cows that they believe was bitten by an Adder along here. Apparently the cow is on the mend. If you follow this FenDog link the first picture (for April 2011) is of the HaHa and those cows are hers. As I have mentioned the banks do not really look steep enough to serve their purpose, they don’t keep the cows out. As a result they have been recut to increase the steepness, as you can see in this picture. The trouble is real HaHas were generally built with a vertical brick wall along one side and I guess such a solution would be too expensive and probably not natural enough. Mind you there used to be a brickworks nearby, connected by the Burwell Tramway to the Ely-Newmarket railway line. If they could source some of those bricks it would have a strong local connection.
I cycled with MikeC back along Lodes Way and we stopped to have a look at the shallow clay pit that has been the source of some of the clay being used for the bund works. Which is enclosing 80 hectares to create a mixed wetland habitat through shallow and seasonal inundation. (There are two pits, this and a much deeper one.) This picture was made from two stitched together and you can see the join. The next time I go this way I’ll have a go at taking another series of pictures.
We stopped to admire the view from Reach Lode Bridge – I am glad I am not the only one who stops there, I rarely go over without stopping to be honest. More water lilies growing in the lode.
We parted ways and I took another picture of the sun just about peeping through the clouds. Actually I can’t quite recall where I took this picture. It might have been from the bridge.
As the day wore on I was glad to keep moving I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt which was fine in the sunshine, but did not stop the wind from getting through to my bones.