Monday, June 27, 2011

Sunny social Cycling

Sunday 26th 2011: It has been one of those weeks, which for me means a week where it has been tricky to get out and get a bit of cycling in. My recent daily distance has dropped to the 1Km region, just enough to remind me that cycling is a pleasant activity and definitely to be pursued.

As Sunday hove into view I also had decision about when to cycle. The Formula 1 races seems to start around 1pm for the European set which means I either cycle in the morning or late afternoon. The weather forecast had also promised some very hot weather so I broke the habit of a lifetime wee while and decided to set out for a ride on Sunday morning. 

When my kids were younger and time was even more scarce I would sometimes pop out at 7am, but that was when I used to call it training and would stick to a fast road route so that I could get back for breakfast with the family. Nowadays with only one child at home I tend to get up and eat my breakfast and read the paper whilst my wife and daughter get up in their own sweet times.

I was expecting it to be warmer when I set off, but as you can see from the Cambridge Digital Technology Group’s weather page it was 10am when it started warming and the sun was turned on. Although I got up quite early I still went out for the Sunday papers and had a read whilst eating my breakfast. However by 9am there was still no sign of life in the house so I set off, leaving my house key in my pocket in my shorts as I didn’t want to disturb my wife by popping back to the bedroom.

As it wasn’t that warm and I wasn’t planning to be out for more than three hours I just set off on the route shown below.  It has become one of my favourite ways to cycle around Wicken Fen and the Lodes Way.  I feel that all cycle routes to a place should have variations so that you can take a more circular approach. I still want them to be reasonably direct though. This is the route, it is a mix of byway, bridleway, shared paths and a little bit of road. It is probably not one for the wetter months of the year.

Harrison’s Drove is a great track as it take you through Wicken Fen to Wicken Lode. but can get very soggy. I would appreciate it if this became a little more all weather, especially when they start renting out bikes at Wicken Fen.  Where the route crosses the A1123 in the Summer months I use a byway called Docking’s Lane to avoid the A1123, but I tend to use the road in the wet months. If it wasn’t the weekend I would probably have gone up the Cam and then headed back down the road from Clayhithe. That would have reduced the overlap even more and the Cam path is very good for cycling.

I am not sure I have shown this actual route before so I have re-created it – here is the Bike Route Toaster Link to the map below.  It is just under 60Km / 37.5 miles long

Did I mention that I also put a different lens on my camera? Since I wasn’t being very adventurous I though the least I could do is look at things with a different perspective, in this case a 100mm to 300mm lens (which is 200mm to 600mm in 35mm money).

The route leaves Cambridge on High Ditch Road before crossing the A14 on Low Fen Drove Way. There were some early morning dog walkers. Since being bitten I have become a little more sensitive to seeing dogs walking free on byways. It makes me think that they (the owners) seek out-of-the-way tracks because the dogs are, perhaps, not the best behaved.  I was reading too much into it the dogs were fine.

After going around Snout’s Corner there is a slightly dilapidated farm building that has had some art work added. I’ve taken pictures of it before, but took another, with the long lens.

The track has a few potholes on the A14 bridge side, but this side it is pretty reasonable and it is not as steep as the picture makes it look. In fact there is no hill at all.

I carried on around and then up through Horningsea and back along the Harcamlow Way before joining the route of the old Cambridge to Mildenhall Railway line which runs along the back of Anglesey Abbey. In the main it passes through agricultural land but you also pass a bit of woodland as well.  This is the view looking back towards Cambridge somewhere near Lode. The fields either side have Flax growing, but it is past the flowering stage.  There was still one field just back along the track with blue flowers still out.

The last bit of the track before you reach the road at Lode is called Harvey’s Droveway, that gets quite rutted as it is well used by farm vehicles and there were some quite deep puddles – which need a bit more care than when it is dry.

My next stop was on the Lodes Way bridge over Swaffham Bulbeck Lode.  It was starting to get a bit sunnier and I had already seen one or two cyclists out and about I was passed on the bridge by this chap.  There is nothing like a sunny Sunday to bring out cyclists.

Which got me musing, some of my non-cycling friends think I am a bit cracked as I try to cycle to most meetings within 10 miles of so in “reasonable” work clothes. Even at a moderate pace 10 miles does not take long on a bike if the route is reasonable. I am not talking byways and bridleway here. 

If you look at some of the cycleway developments here in the Cambridge area they are often a moderate distance; Horningsea to Fen Ditton School – 2.35Km/1.5 miles, Cottenham to Histon 5.4Km/3.4 miles, Wandlebury Cycle track 3.24KM/2.2 miles, Sawston-Babraham cycleway 1.67KM/1 mile, Impington-Milton 2.92Km/1.8 miles). Now I realise that some of this is probably “driven” by the way in which such things are funded, it is no coincidence that some of them facilitate popular school routes.  The trouble is that reinforces the mind-set that longer distances are for dedicated (and weird) cyclists.

What is even worse is that many parents resist the provision of healthy cycle routes as it threatens the provision of “free buses” for their children and because of the perceived safety issues. Mind you the Milton-Impington cycleway issues were reported in 2009 (Cycleway may spell end of a school bus) and almost two years later the route has yet to be completed. There is also concern in Comberton with “Mums say children facing ‘dangerous walk to school’”. Although this is as much an issue of the loss of a free bus service rather than the provision of a cycle way.

All of this serves to marginalise the bicycle for anything other than very short journeys and yet at a very moderate 16Km/h / 10mph represents 32km/20 miles in distance terms over two hours. So it is great to see some longer routes being opened up into the countryside.  The Guided Busway route is a shade under 20Km /12.5 miles  from Milton Road to St Ives and the Lodes Way from Lode to Wicken Fen is 12Km/7.5 miles.  Both of these routes represent an opportunity to get just a bit further into some lovely countryside and at the same time help to reduce perceived safety fears.

As you can see this bit of Lodes Way through White Fen was created to help join the dots of Lodes Way. In fact I think it was the first bit of Lodes Way that was added. The surface is just slightly loose small gravel on a hard surface and is ok, although nothing like as good as the new tarmac surface on the CBG high-quality cycle path. The path also meanders through the Fen as well. There has also been quite a lot of planting.

I took the pictures from the area of the new bridge over Swaffham Bulbeck Lode. You do have to be a bit careful as the track drops down from the heights of the bridge and there is a tight left bend. Loose gravel collects here and can catch the unwary out.

A little bit further down the lode is the old footbridge – still serviceable and used.

After crossing the bridge you reach an unnamed tarmac road. as I passed by there were quite a few pink poppies growing up in the field on the right hand side. Not quite as spectacular as those growing in Dorset, but it does make me wonder whether is was grown as a crop, for medicinal purposes, in the field once.

Along one side of the field there was a quite a host of poppy flowers, which I didn’t notice until I had gone by.  Here are a few more – there were hundreds if not thousands in flower though.

As I was passing along Split drove towards the Reach Lode Bridge I stopped to take a road’s eye view.  You can see the curve of the bridge just to the right of the road.  I like the way the flowers grow along these verges – they don’t seem to suffer the regular hack that some roadside verges get.

I am not quite sure why, but I find it difficult to resist taking pictures from a bridge. I think part of the reason is that it gives a slightly elevated viewpoint here in the flatlands. Here are some water lilies, past their best.

Also the obligatory view (when I am on a bridge with a camera) along the Lode towards Reach, you can just see one of the houses in Reach if you look along the line of the Lode.

As I was taking pictures there were cyclists converging from both sides.  Here is a group coming along Split Drove, the lilac edges the road nicely.  The road turns left a bit further back from the way they have come. You can also see the edge of lilac delineating that road.

A few traveller caravans have parked up just out of sight, but they are set back from the road and the dog although lively is tied up.

(As I sit typing this Post up there is thunder and lightning flashing all around and I keep saving every sentence or so just in case there is a power cut!)

As they approached the track towards the bridge a chap who has just passed me over the bridge went by them.  He did ask me whether I wanted him to wait to allow me to take my picture. Actually it was the cyclists I wanted in the picture.

You’ve guess it some pictures from the next bridge along Lodes Way.  This was taken from the rather awkward footbridge over Burwell Lode.  I say awkward, it is better than nothing and there are ramps to help guide you bike wheels up and down the steps. There is a bit of steep grass (and mud) banking also (I cycle it – just remember to get a run (pedal) up and don’t lean back otherwise you might tip over backwards. 

The problem is that the steps are so steep that even on a dry day my wheels skid down the ramp. I have wide handlebars on my Marin which sometimes bang against the railings along the edge as well.  Oh and whilst I am moaning my pedals and cranks also bang against the top step as the bike levels out. Mind you as I say it is much better than nothing.

As well as loads of cyclists there were also boats out and about in the fine weather.  This one is coming up from Burwell. In this picture it looks quite industrial, actually the warehouse building as part of a small industrial unit halfway between where I was standing and Burwell.  (There seems to be an air-conditioning company there as well as a transport company.

As I was standing on one of the high spots in the area and had a longer lens on my camera then it was also an opportunity to take pictures of various “landmarks”.  This is Burwell Fen Farm as marked on the OS map.  The map shows 3 separate buildings – from here it looks like one.

There was also a boat coming down the lode from Upware.

I then headed up Harrison’s Drove which gives you the sense of being in the middle of Wicken Fen. Whilst I understand that it is easier to keep cyclists around the periphery you get a much greater sense of the countryside heading through the middle.  The first half of Harrison’s Drove is an old concrete “road” now classified as a BOAT. The concrete slabs have cracked apart and are there are some large gaps, but with a bit of care it is quite cycle-able. The second half is a bridleway, recently classified as such, looking at Where’s The Path doesn’t show it as a path still though. As an aside I have noticed that WTPs generally runs out of OS map “tile serves” much earlier in the day not there is finer weather around.

The second half is a mud and grass track with some large dips and ruts. I would assume that given the high levels of water around that when it is used by even a small number of vehicles it quickly gets chewed up.  In places matting has been laid down but the surface soil has been eroded to leave the mats bare.  You do hear birds tweeting around here though.  I have heard cuckoos several times this year whilst cycling on this bit of track.

The bridleway then reaches Wicken lode where the bridleway turns left, there is a footpath to the right as well though which takes you back to where Wicken Lode splits into Monks Lode and where NCN51 is.

The fine weather was certainly getting people out with three canoeists paddling along Wicken Lode heading towards Reach Lode. One thing I’ve noticed about my long lens is that by the time I decide to take a picture of something I have often gotten too close. The good thing though is that when taking pictures of people I can take pictures from further away and it doesn’t look quite so intrusive.

Yet more pictures of water lilies. The “High Dynamic Range” picture has made the reflection in the water almost as bright as the reeds themselves. The flower is still almost bleached out though.

The bridleway then follows the route of Reach Lode up to Upware. I stopped and parked my bike to take a few pictures. This is the view back down the lode towards the cockup bridge that crosses Wicken Lode.  There were heaps of people around messing about on their boats.  One thing I have noticed is that one or two bring along small portable power generators. It seems to be slightly odd to come out into the countryside and then run a noise-maker to watch TV but hey what do I know.

I was amazed how many cyclists there were going by and as you do nodded and said hello as they passed by. One of them turned round and came back.  I assumed he was going to ask a question about places to cycle or some such. Instead he asked “are you Jamie?” it turned out to be the Cottenham Cyclist, author of the Blog of the same name -  Whose blog I subscribe to. So we stopped and had a chat to compare notes about blogging and cycling.  I mentioned how I had met someone cycling on the CGB and asked them if he was the Cottenham Cyclist. Whilst finding the link I also checked out Blogs followed by the CC and started following them myself.  I also rashly mentioned that I am thinking I  must really learn to track stand this year – now I’ll have to give it a go.

It must be the time of year, but I have noticed that the frequency of Posts on most of the Blogs I follow has dropped off – including my own.  We must all be too busy cycling (er except for me).

As we stood and talked heaps of cyclists went by some on what looked to be vintage machines. One of them was definitely a Pedersen. When I say heaps I reckon around 50 passed by with one or two asking how far ahead the peloton was. After comparing notes on bicycles and when the best time to get a tandem is we parted ways and I headed off towards Wicken along the Upware Road towards the A1123.

On the way through I had to stop to take pictures of these purple flowers growing in one of the fields. I think there might have been some potatoes growing underneath the ground as well! They have come along way from the Andes.

As you can see it is quite a colourful time of year here in the Fens.What with the oilseed rape earlier in the year,  then flax and now potatoes and of course with a sprinkling of wildflowers thrown in as well.

What was that about a sprinkling of wildflowers – here are some poppies with a sprinkling of wheat, sorry, here is some wheat with a sprinkling of poppies. The line of flowers on the right hand side of the picture seems to be the line of an old hedge, long since uprooted to make a larger field.

There are a few ears of wheat growing amongst the poppies though.

I have gotten into the habit of crossing the A1123 and using a byway called Docking’s Lane to get to Lower Drove (which is the route of NCN11 between Ely and Wicken Fen). As I was cycling up towards the A1123 I passed a couple of cyclists by the roadside, one looked as if they had been mending a puncture and I slowed to see if any help was needed. It wasn’t and shortly after they passed me on their racing bikes. For some reason, known only to lots of probably male cyclists, I upped my pace to catch them up. It is a failing I have even when I am wearing work clothes that I tend to speed up just to show passing cyclists that I can cycle a bit faster than I do.

As we all reached the junction they seemed to be going for it (i.e. crossing the road) so I did, but still looked anyway, it was a good job as there was a fast car coming round the bend. Always go for one last look is my motto – and that could well have been if I’d carried on across the road (my last look that is). I headed toward Docking Lane and they went down towards Wicken.  A little while later as I was heading down Lower Road towards Wicken who should I meet but the two racing cyclists, did I mention they had loads of Lycra on as well.  We said hello like long-lost friends passing like ships in the night. (Just to mix a metaphor and a saying).

Wicken Fen was busy, slightly depressing was the huge number of cars that had transported the visitors to Wicken Fen. In our car-dependent society most people would see the car as the only viable means of transport to get to Wicken Fen which is just a little bit off the beaten track.  There is a bit of a catch-22 situation in that the NT want to attract visitors which essentially means making provision for more and more cars, yet Wicken Fen is a throw-back to a more natural time

Instead of following Lodes Way I turned off towards Burwell and joined the NCN51 route to Reach.  Despite the recent rain this farmer has been able to get a bit of haymaking done along Weirs Drove at the Hythe Bridge end.

A good line of bales drying in the sun, I presume.

The recent rain has made some of the tracks I use slightly sticky and I was in two minds as to whether to cycle along Black Drove way but old (well new really) habits die hard and I did. It was indeed sticky and slippery and I had one or two moments when I thought I’d have to dab my feet but didn’t. I did find that the rain had made some of the track which had recently been repaired easier to cycle.  The repairs had been made by filling the dips with soil.  Since the tractors don’t need it the soil had not been flattened and on my bicycle was loose enough to be tricky and I would tend to cycle to one or the other side.  After the rain the loose soil was more compacted.

Once on the other side and heading towards Swaffham Prior there was yet another field of flax. The buildings in the background are the Swan Lake Grain Store which is where Black Droveway starts.

At this point I was starting to worry whether I would get back in time for the Grand Prix, I shouldn’t have worried for timing reasons but I’ll come to that story. This is the last picture I took of the wiggly road towards Swaffham Prior.

The good news was that I got home with 15 minutes to spare, mind you I was absolutely parched. It was by now very hot and sunny and it had been a mistake not to have taken a drink with me. Still I was home, the first thing was to head for the fridge and get a cold can of diet coke. Except the door was locked and then I noticed that my wife’s car was not there. I walked around the house trying doors and windows, there was no way I was going to get in easily.  So I rang my wife who didn’t answer, she rarely twigs when her phone rings when she is out so I rang my daughter who knows about modern technology!

It turned out that they were in town buying a dress and were just having lunch. Normally I take a door key with me, but if you remember I had left it in my  pocket on the bedroom floor so as not to  disturb my wife’s lie-in.

So they offered to come back, which I accepted but then realised that it might not be the best thing for peace and harmony. So I rang back to let them know I would break in. By now it was getting very close to the start of the race and despite the fact I was gasping I decided not to pop down to the shop for a drink. Instead I unchained a ladder from the shed - combination locks don’t require keys – phew. I then propped the ladder up by an upstairs window, jammed the ladder with a couple of chairs and broke into my own house. I did let my wife and daughter know I had not come to any harm as well.

Rather disappointingly it was quite easy and none of my neighbours seemed to notice even when I dropped the ladder whilst carrying it. I managed to turn on the TV and start the time-shift function just as the cars were going round for the formation lap.  Two cans of diet coke later I put the ladder back and then settled in to watch what turned out to be a very boring race - the worst of the season. Especially after the excitement of the Canadian Grand prix.


  1. Nice to finally bump into you!

    I realise now that all the cyclists I passed between Cottenham and Wilburton were on the Flat Out in the Fens sportive. Hats off to those doing the 100 mile+ routes in that heat !

  2. And you, I'll stop accosting other cyclists (who might have been you) now!

    I was pretty dehydrated pootling around Wicken Fen. The routes look good, perhaps something to train for next year!