Sunday, July 17, 2011

A circular cycle ride from Cambridge to Bury St Edmunds–part 1 there

Friday, 15th July: POVETSATWFING – (A slight expansion of the usual POETS’ Day – Push off very early tomorrow’s Saturday and the weather forecast is not good.) I have not been out for proper rides quite as often as I would have liked just recently. There is no one reason, a combination of work stuff to do, not quite so enticing weather and the desire to head off to pastures new.  I do thoroughly enjoy riding around the Cambridgeshire area and seeing the passing of the seasons in the Fens, but every now and then comes the urge to explore somewhere a bit different.

I have cycled around this area long enough for that to mean I either need to spend most of the day getting there and back or to use the train for one for one of the legs of the ride. The weather on Friday morning was looking really good and apart from a conference call at 10am I had no other fixed claims to my time. In hindsight I should have set off before my call, at say 8am and then stopped on the way, but that relies on decent cellphone coverage and 10am wasn’t too bad it meant I would be off by 10.30am.

The weather forecast for the weekend was also not looking too good with rain coming through and as a change from cycling my wife had arranged a walk on Sunday afternoon with some friends – so all the signs were lined up for me to spend as much of the day as I could on Friday cycling.

As sometimes happens the call started later than planned and by the time it was all over it had gone 11am. So no worries, I grabbed some dried fruit and jelly babies, filled up some water bottles with crushed ice and lemon juice and put a couple of cold cans of diet coke in my rack pack and set off.

The good news was that I had replaced the GPS mount (option 2) earlier in the week – the Garmin approach is to use zip-ties and so it didn't take long. The design has also been modified and the GPS unit slides in somewhat more easily and also seemed a bit more stable. Mind you that might just have been because the old mount had been failing for some time.

The indifferent news, was that I did not really have time to look at a map to get a sense of where I wanted to explore, which I suppose is more like exploring the unknown but might equally well just lead me onto busy unpleasant roads. So my “plan” was to cycle to Bury St Edmunds along NCN 51 and then find a route back to the north of the A14. Here is the map of the route I ended up taking and here is the Bike Route Toaster link (BRT). It was just under 128Km or 80 miles long and there are a few short hills to climb some even reach 100m above sea level.

As I headed out through the villages to Newmarket I took a few short cuts through the Swaffhams and missing out Reach entirely.  I more or less then followed NCN51 through to Bury St Edmunds, although I took a slightly less convoluted route through Newmarket than the NCN51 would suggest.



When I write my Posts I generally have a browser window open with the BRT map showing, just recently the map re-draw (OSM Cycle Map) seems to have slowed right down. Some minutes later  and I am still waiting for the central square of the map to appear. This seems to be a problem associated with the OSM Cycle map as when I switch to the Street Map view it appears on the screen very quickly.

Here is what I mean, all but one square has appeared. In this case I wanted to just compare my route with the NCN51 route. The great thing about the OSM cycle map is that is has a lot of the cycle routes added to it. I Guess as it gets more successful then there is more pressure on the servers holding the map data. This is the NCN 51 route from Barrow to Little Saxham (only 80 inhabitants – but its own website). Sometimes I take the direct route and sometimes I go on the “official” route. As you can see from the trace I followed the NCN 51 route this time.

Now back to the route through Newmarket it seems the “official” route passes through the market area and along the main street. Is it just my cynical mind or is there some pressure exerted that causes Sustrans routes through towns to pass through the commercial areas. Thinking about it, it makes sense for  A to B cyclists, if I was cycling from Cambridge to Newmarket for a purpose then I would have probably wanted to end up in the centre. The challenge is that the Sustrans blue signs can be quite discrete and in a busy town it is quite easy to lose sight of them. Alright – I admit it, I lose sight of them. Part of the problem is that cycle routes have often been added as an afterthought, don’t always seem logical and end up combining road, footpaths, shared-use paths and any other bit of rough track.  The blue signs can be all over the place as well.

Talking about confusing routes, I had no problems getting to Bury St Edmunds, but I did make my own way through the centre. Yes another way of saying that I must have missed one of the NCN turns. I have also discovered that depending upon what zoom factor you look at the OSM Cycle map NCN51  the routes might or might not be mapped. As you can see from the map there are some cycle routes through the town however the NCN51 route seems to take a slightly less direct route to the other side in order to go through the centre. As I went through there was the pleasant smell of beer brewing at the Greene King Brewery. One of these days I must take a tour of the Brewery – for the best view of Bury St Edmunds for the view of course!

The route out of Bury St Edmunds take you past the Crown Court and the old Council buildings now up for redevelopment.  The route also passes through No Man’s Meadow along the Kevelaer Way and over the A14. (Bury St Edmunds is twinned with Kevelaer, Germany). You then reach Shakers Lane where in reflection I should have turned left but went right instead.  At this point there are too many NCN signs for 13 and 51, I followed on NCN51 route until it stopped leaving me with NCN13 and off to Great Barton but not by the route shown on the OSM Cycle map. Looking at the Sustrans Map what I could have done was carry along NCN51 to the Flying Fortress Pub and then headed North on the latest routing for NCN 13 and then to Thetford – for another time.

I did go to Great Barton, via another “routed” way before heading west, whilst trying not to drop back onto the A14. So I would try to aim West and if I found myself dropping South would bias the route towards the North. I don’t know this bit of the route and was very pleasantly surprised by how picturesque some of it is.

My first photo-stop was after passing through Swaffham Prior, the weather was glorious, in fact I was wondering whether it was going to be too warm. These pylons march on to the Burwell Electricity Sub-station and then to the east of Wicken Fen. Look how ripe the crops are as well.  The harvest seems to be coming early this year.

On reaching Burwell I re-joined the NCN51 route which heads off along the Heath Road to Exning. At one point the road runs parallel with the noisy A14. In fact it is so noisy you can’t here traffic on the small road.  Heading along the Heath Road towards the A14 I stopped to take another picture of the brown fields and blue skies.

NCN51 runs through the middle of Newmarket avoiding both the Fordham Road (A142) and Exning Road (B1103).  Here is part of that path, on closer inspection of the BRT map the course I show is not the route I took. I followed the NCN51 route along Brickfields Avenue and then along the shared-use path towards and across Willie Snaith Road.  Sorry, I hadn’t noticed. When mapping the route I tend to rely upon the auto-routing to get it right. Here is that cycle path, the blue NCN sign looks a little like a keep left sign – be careful at night as there is a lamppost right in the middle of this particular shared-use path.

There is a climb out of Newmarket along the Moulton Road (to 88m above sea level) you often see horses being exercised in the mornings on each side of the road. When following the route on my GPS it is unusual to see so many contour lines on the screen. You then drop down into Moulton (43m) and back up the “worst” hill of the ride (92m) . Well it is quite long and quite steep for a flatlander like myself. After Gazeley the quiet country lanes turns to an even quieter country lane as you turn off towards Upper Green.  Here is that quiet lane – I didn’t see any cars – but there were some tractors around and one post van.  Having said that it is still a delightful bit of road to cycle along.

I guess one of the reasons I like it is that as well as being a quiet country lane the countryside is also undulating. There is Upper Green to the right and yes it is upper hill. The field in front was being combined as I went past.

After a couple of small climbs you reach Barrow and detour off to the South and then back up to Little Saxham. This is the Church of St Nicholas, apparently of the 41 round towers in Suffolk this is amongst the finest. The lower part of Saxon and the upper bit was added by the Normans.

The route into Bury St Edmunds passes just to the North of Ickworth park – a “Georgian Italianate palace in an idyllic English landscape” according to the NT. There are some lovely walks in the park.

Neither the OS map nor the OSM cycle map on where’s the Map show the NCN5 route through Bury St Edmunds completely, but at least until you get to the centre it is well signed and follows back streets and park paths. You cross the River Linnet (a tributary of the River Lark) at Stamford Bridge and then pass through Holywater Meadows.  It is rather a strange river with bright green water!  That is not a trick of the camera – it really was bright green, I hope that it was a a result of some eco-friendly dye.

This is the path through Holywater Meadows – the path was bumpy and not as good as it looked, but still it was a lot better than cycling along a busy road.

As I mentioned I got a little lost in the town centre, but managed to get to where I wanted to be in the end. Pleasant cycle paths are not always that easy to find once you’ve moved away from them. Once again you cross a river – the River Lark where there are some pretty good cycle paths alongside footpaths. How about that – just to the North of the town and not a soul in sight.

This was the view to the left of the path in the last picture. I have moaned about the disadvantages of grafting cycle routes into towns, this has to be one of the advantages, you get to cycle along a traffic free and picturesque path. The only slightly worrying thing was that the sky seemed to be getting cloudier

After wimbling around a bit I found myself passing under the Ipswich to Ely railway line and past this pink field full of Epilobium angustifolium I think. It is more commonly called Rosebay Willowherb or Fireweed.

The route up to Great Barton followed a shared-use path alongside the A143 but when it came to a fork I took the opportunity to leave the busier road and cycle up The Avenue. This must be a well to-do village it not only has some nice houses it has two websites – Great Barton Community Website and the one stop shop for Great Barton. Whilst the second one appears more commercial it does have some rather nice pictures of the countryside.

As I was cycling around the village I figured I ought to head west again if I wanted to get home and turned left onto the B1106, but after a while I turned off as the other country lanes looked more inviting. Yet another old railway line with half derelict “bridges”.  This used to be  the L&NER line between Bury St Edmunds and Thetford. It was authorised in 1865 and after some issues was opened on the 15th November 1875 as the Bury St Edmunds and Thetford Railway (B&TR) but got amalgamated first as GER and then LNER. It would (have) made a fantastic cycle and walking route between Bury St Edmunds and Thetford.

Alongside the road (and the disused railway line) was this field of poppies and daisies. I think there might be a bit of wheat in there as well.

At this point I was heading west and although I could see a main road coming up (A134) my map also showed that there was a smaller road continuing west. So far so good I was heading home on unexplored (by me) roads.

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