Sunday, October 9, 2011

How is the Swavesey to St Ives bit of the cycle path getting on?

Sunday, 2nd October: As I’ve been taking precautions – and indulging in safe cycling – which in my case means a liberal helping of Sudocrem before setting off on the saddle things have calmed down. If it’s good enough for nappy rash then it is good enough for cyclists is my motto.

One of the things I like about regular cycling is that you get to know your body. I’m not encouraging hypochondria what I mean is that with regular cycling you learn to recognise when things aren’t quite as usual.  For instance I haven’t been cycling quite as regularly so hills are just that bit harder (and so it seems has the saddle been just that little more noticeable.)

Whilst my fitness initially drops of initially quite quickly, I find it takes a couple of weeks out of the saddle before I have to think about wearing “proper clothing” if I am to cycle any distance. I also notice that bit of me will ache after a long ride – wrists and shoulders – nothing serious. The last thing that seems to go is the belief that I can cycle quite a long distance without.

When I was a boy we used to think that it was a major achievement to cycle to the seaside and back – a round trip of around 40 miles. Nowadays I know that 40 miles isn’t far, yes things might ache, I might get sore, but the beauty of a cycling is that if you get tired you just go a little slower. A drink, some jelly babies and a few stretches can get you a long way through some interesting places.

The other thing I’ve learnt is that there is always something to see – no matter how many times you’ve been through a particular route. Mind you this time around I had something in my to go and see. This was a visit to the CGB (Cambridge Guided Busway) to see how they are progressing with the improvements to the cycle way part between Swavesey and St Ives. 

The good news is that the southern section has a great smooth tarmac finish and the northern section has a smooth tarmac finish from Milton Road through to Swavesey. The not so good news  is that the bit of cycleway between Swavesey and St Ives in highly prone to flooding. There are four or five sections that flood and where water seems to collect and remain.  Apparently, or should that be allegedly the cycleway part was not built as specified and constraints placed by the Environment Agency imply that it cannot be built up to much. So we shall have flooding – but there will be a tarmac surface and so hopefully it will be passable most of the year.  I wonder if the plan is to place depth markers alongside so cyclists will be able to check.

I got a book of local cycle rides from some friends a few years ago and on New Year’s Day went on one – which happened to take in a route through Sutton and along Long North Fen Drove. This passes over the flood plains there – fortunately there is a raised walkway that I was able to use as I headed around the loop. Which is to the right of the picture.

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I got round but the way back to Ely was via the Wash Road a bit further north. This bit was also flooded and since the alternative was to back track and add on another 20-30 miles I tried to cycle through.  Well to cut a long story short although I was wearing waterproof boots the depth of the flood meant that at the bottom of the pedal stroke my boot top went under water. Cycling when wrapped up is very pleasant even on the coldest of days – but cycling with wet freezing feet is not so pleasant.

In the end I turned round – as I didn’t really now how much deeper the water was going to get and neither did I know how long the flooded road went on for I turned around. As I did two cars turned up – they both asked me if it was passable – I said I doubt it. One then went on and the other turned around.

At this point I had freezing feet and quite a bit further to go than planned and set of at a good warming pace.  It was the only way to generate enough heat to get some feeling back into my feet. After a while the car that turned around passed by, although they slowed as they did and shouted encouragement and that I’d managed to keep above 20 mph all the time they’d followed me.  They also think that the other car had gotten stuck.

Nowadays I try not go get wet and I certainly don’t cycle everywhere at 20+mph. 

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This is the route I took – out east (yes east) along the NCN51 and then back through the countryside, down the Cam and out along the CGB and back. Why? – well why not! It was Sunday and warm and sunny and I like a bit of rough as regular readers of my Blog will know. Now there’s a slogan for a sticker – Mountain bikers like a bit of rough!

The route was this one and this is the Bike Route Toaster link It is 65Km/40 miles in length and made for a delightful ride on a lovely Indian Summer day. One of the reasons I do the loop at the beginning is that it gives me some varied terrain – I don’t really like there and back on the same route rides.

One of the interesting things about cycling is that the same route can look so different depending upon whether you are coming or going. Mind you it is not every day that you see a small boat steaming up the river. Now although I take quite a few pictures I an not that bold at taking pictures of random strangers, unless I have a long lens.

There are times like this when I find it easier – I would guess that he is used to it. If you follow this link and then search for G15843 you will see that it is a Steam Launch built in 1988, 5m in length. The engine is inboard and has a power of 3 – now don’t ask me what that means – 3hp?

After the delights of cycling alongside the River Cam I turned of from the Halingway just before Baits Bite Lock along Fen Road and into Milton.  This is another leg of the NCN11 and has a dedicated cycle/pedestrian bridge over the A14 – the Jane Coston Bridge. You then drop down past St John’s Innovation Centre and onto Milton Road.

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It was a nice day, the buses were running, but don’t worry I didn’t take loads of bus pictures, in fact I stuck to the subject of the day (the flooding bit) almost. This is the new waiting room at Longstanton, it seems to be making good progress. According to the link the council received a grant of £430,000 to help fund the building.

After Swavesey technically the cycleway is closed. However I figured that it was unlikely they would be working on a Sunday and if they were then I would use a route through the Fen Drayton Lakes to get a better look.

It does look like there has been work along this entire stretch of the cycleway – they’ve removed a layer of the surface – as you can see from the way this crossing stands proud. I assume that this is because they are going to lay a thick tarmac surface and don’t wish to alter the final level of the cycleway.

In the areas of path that flood it seems that the level of the path has been raised and drainage ditches are being constructed alongside. The path had two problems it was too low and had poor drainage.

As you can see this part of the path has been raised with a new layer of aggregate.

Normally I assume this this would really mean stop. (Just to be clear if certainly does not mean stop cycling on the cycleway and start cycling on the concrete tracks.)

They seem to have made progress on all the problem areas – again this has been raised and a better drainage ditch has been put in alongside.

I know I said that I wasn’t taking pictures of buses – but the buses were running – honest – and here is one to prove it.

Another drainage ditch.

And here are the machines doing the work – well not actually at the time the picture was taken – but you know what I mean.

I am not sure that the Council has said when it expects the work to be complete – I suppose I was hoping to see a bit of tarmac down – but, hopefully it won’t be too long now.

It was a pleasure to get back onto the tarmac bit of the cycleway. The bit between St Ives and Swavesey has been improved. For what seems like the first time ever the soggy bits are no longer soggy and they rough gravelly bits have been improved, unfortunately the rest of that bit if cycleway is worse than it was after the scraping to reduce the level before the tarmac gets laid.

When it is laid then they' will be able to roller blade from Cambridge to St Ives – like this young lady at the Cambridge end enjoying what will probably be the last of the Summer sun.

Let’s hope they roll on with tarmac so we can get rolling with our bikes.


  1. Hi JME. I have read many of your blogs on the CGB and they are all very well written. I was told by the foreman of the construction site thet tarmac will begin to be layed starting from Swavesey moving toward st ives yesterday (10th)and they expect to be finished work by the 21st. I was told that if you try to get through on a bike whilst tarmacing is happening they will forcefully stop you! Also if you take to the track to go around they have been informed to report a description to the police. This is following the accident the other day when a bike got squashed.

  2. Hi LMC, thank you very much - both for the kind words and the update on the cycleway works between Swavesey and St Ives. It'll be great when it gets finished and I can't blame them for not wanting cyclists through there - after all it is for our own good.


  3. This is good news, I have been doing the long way around St Ives on my daily commute to Cambridge, and the Low Road out of St Ives is dreadfully unpleasant, both on the road and the cycle path.

    Waiting for this to be finished has been painful, but when its complete the blacktop all the way to Cambridge will be a dream for cyclists.

    Its great to to se so many people cycling down the busway cycle path, especially families and kids out enjoying their bikes. This alone is worth the money for the GBW.

  4. I agree, it is great to see families and kids out on their bike on the CGB. I got splashed (soaked actually)by a car running through a puddle whilst cycling on the Low Road out of St Ives

  5. The busway is totally out of bounds at the moment, way to deep and dangerous, only problem is, the alternative route to Cambridge via the low rd is under water too. I did it this morning in the dark, just!

    1. It would be interesting to know just how many days the CGB cycle way has been flooded this year.