Friday, October 7, 2011

A Poetic Loop to Sunny Soham

Friday, 30th September: As I write this post the weather has changed for the worse – as far as I am concerned. Having had glorious record-breaking temperatures it is now cold and windy. This cycle ride seems like an age ago – whereas it was only one week ago as it happens.

Of course in that time there has been further news on the CGB (Cambridge Guided Busway) urging “cyclists to use common sense”. You only have to read the comments to get a sense of how strongly polarised the sentiment around cycling is. In my view there were two wrongs – and as well are all told from an early age two wrongs don’t make a right.

I do think that the cyclist was an idiot for cycling along the CGB concrete tracks.  I don’t have a problem with him wearing earphones though. I think that they help to protect you hearing from the high-pitched tyre noise you get on some roads. I also can’t quite believe that the bus driver was unable to stop and ran over the bicycle.

This is the second time for this type of incident and it makes me wonder whether there is some odd effect caused by driving along the CGB – is it harder to estimate speed, or do the drivers assume that the obstructers will get out of the way more quickly. There are crossings where the concrete tracks continue and the tracks are not that easy to lift your bike across . In fact I find it is easier to pick the bike right up and then walk across – but you have to be careful not to stumble. I’d like to think that if I did stumble when crossing the CGB (at a legitimate crossing point) that the bus driver was able to stop safely.

The issue of the crossings was raised in a letter to the Hunt’s Post – “Guided bus- it’s smooth but is it safe?” which suggests that drivers are recommended to sound their horns at crossing points. The other problem would appear to be that the CGB bus is “not as good as the 55”.

There do seem to be some teething  issues with some tweaks to be made. I still think that it was a missed opportunity not taking the concrete track through the city. Ultimately there will need to be a big push to reduce car dependence which in the long term should be to the benefit of the people of Cambridgeshire.  It is a question of making the economics of public transport and the benefits work versus the real cost of owning a car or two.  I have done business sin Japan and in Tokyo the disadvantages of car ownership do outweigh some of the benefits of car ownership.

Here in Cambridge the cost of car parking is increasing  - “Car park price hike to see shoppers paying £25 a day” which the traders predictably are worried about – personally I avoid driving into Cambridge like the plague – if it were better served by Park and Ride and had better facilities for cyclists and pedestrians and was pleasant to visit that to me is more important than the cost of the car parking.  Slightly worryingly the modelling suggests that there will be an increase in car park use – duh. Just as worrying a Sustrans study in Bristol indicated the retailers over-estimate the number of shoppers travelling by car and so perhaps place too much importance on the car. (See also this Post – “Cycle infrastructure by accident rather than design boosts Tesco sales”.)

In one of those studies of the “obvious” it turns out that “Texting while driving even more dangerous than previously thought”. The trouble is it is vulnerable road users who pay the price of such foolish behaviour. It does seem that there is recognition that motorists should take more responsibility for the potential danger of their vehicles – “Drivers who maim to face five years in prison with new offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving”. the trouble is I am not convinced that stiff deterrents really work.  Because, fortunately accidents are far and few between most drivers probably don’t recognise the effect their poor driving has on the vulnerable road users. 

I’d rather not come close to dangerous drivers. it is scant consolation if I get maimed that the driver ends up spending time in jail. We have had a huge investment in making cars safer and more comfortable for their occupants now lets see some investment going into making drivers (including me) safer and more courteous drivers. Modern GPS and logging systems could quite easily be used to monitor and provide feedback.

It might help prevent level crossing incidents (another one). I was pleased to see that G’s, an Agricultural Firm with an operation in Barway, on NCN11 between Wicken Fen and Ely and “launching a campaign to improve employees’ driving skills”. Well done to them, and to be fair I’ve always found that  the tractor drivers and minibus drivers around there to show courtesy to me as a cyclist. Indeed my son, who sometimes has to drive around on company business has had sessions with a professional drivers with two companies he has worked for.

I still think that one of the problems is that we have road networks struggling with very dissimilar forms of road users/traffic. Tragically a pedestrian was killed by a lorry in Ely. There have been 13 cyclists killed cycling in London this year and in you follow the link, “four cyclists were killed by HGVs within metres of the same spot in the last few years”. Interestingly in London car use is dropping, although politically there seems less will than you might imagine from a cycling mayor to build on this momentum.

When will we stop gearing society around the car?  Well here in Cambridge there are a few signs – “Homes plan rejected over ‘unsafe’ access” and “Bike brigade medic launch emergency response unit”. There are some black spots as well – the railway station features on my list with the shameful lack of provision for cycle parking and now they are “removing the pedestrian crossings as they ‘are a risk to pedestrians’”. Now there is an example of how buses, cars, cyclists, pedestrians and taxis really don’t play together well.

Phew that is more than enough ranting – back to my Poet’s day cycle ride around the fens. The temperature almost reached 30C with sun all day long. Here is the bike Route Toaster link to the map shown below.  It is around 66Km/40 miles long and a flat ride along a river bank, through farmland and fenland as well as taking in a few villages and the small Cambridgeshire town of Soham along the way.

The bank of the River Cam also known as the Halingway forms part of the NCN11 route. Although the link if you follow it shows that some of it is still at the proposed stage. In fact this leg of NCN11 stops at Waterbeach.  It is a very pleasant route to cycle, the path isn’t that wide so you have to take care and you will meet quite a few people walking (and cycling) along the path at the weekend. This time it wasn’t too busy although the Bumps will make it impassable from time to time.

This is where the Cambridge to Kings Lynn railway line (Fen Line) passes over the River Cam. On this side of the bridge there is a path on the bank (NCN11) on the other side I assume that when the bridge was built there was no path, so a wooden path has been built to connect Ditton Meadows with Stourbridge Common. There originally was only one path with a steep footbridge across the railway line, through the middle of the meadow.

As you can see, like many places structures such as this are not safe from graffiti. You might recognise this artist. His work can also be seen under the Girton Interchange. (Exploring Rural-Urban Constructions)

A little further along the river – with the trees either side this route is to some extent shielded from the wind. Not that there was much wind.  You might also think that there was no-one around – that was only because I tend to wait until the view is clear. As I tend to take HDR pictures with multiple exposures unless the people are standing still they tend to be a bit ghost-like.

The path also passes under the A14 – the scene of some Cambridge University related graffiti. You then pass Baits Bite Lock before reaching Clayhithe.  Out of sight is a rather nice house built in 1842  used by the Conservators (of the River) for their meetings. This is where the River Foreman resides and they have workshops.

This is the view from the bridge, looking up river. To the right is the slipway from the Conservators’ workshops. Some of the equipment they use to maitain the river is moored up including a “de-weeder” – Berky. (This Berkey is yellow though.)  There are other images ofr the River at Work” – including piles of bicycles that have been thrown in the river and retrieved.

On the right hand side of the river is The Bridge (a pub).

This is the view down river of the bridge – as I went past this young lady was sunbathing in her bikini on the grass. It is good to see that she is a cyclist.

After cycling down the road from Clayhithe to Horningsea I turned of along a bridleway towards Lode and The Lodes Way. This section of the path follows the route of the old Cambridge to Mildenhall railway line. Old railway lines make for great cycling and walking routes, generally flat and away from traffic – what more could you want. I was expecting the leaves to look a little more autumnal though.

As you can see from the pictures the skies were blue. Just before passing though White Fen was a pile of white stuff – which I assume is some form of NPK treatment for the field which will get ploughed in with the stubble.

This is the field it will get ploughed into  - White Fen is off to the right – the pylons are heading towards Burwell.

I continued along Lodes Way until just after the footbridge on Burwell Lode where I turned right along Harrison’ Drove. It starts are a concrete road – but turns into a grass and mud track. You have to be careful with cracks in the concrete and ruts in the mud – both can cause trouble for the unwary cyclist.

This area is next to Priory Farm – which was bought by Alan Bloom as a derelict farm and drained in WW2 when there was pressure to “grow our own”. He wrote a book about his experiences  - “The Farm in the Fen” as well as founding Bressingham Gardens. For a book that was written 70 odd years ago is reads very well and gives an insight into the politics of land drainage at the time.

Flip, I've just noticed that I have not put the route in properly – I’d made a mistake and not followed Harrison’s Drove properly on the map when I digitised it. It is now OK, but just shows how easy it is to make mistakes especially when I am putting in routes that I already know very well.

Back to the ride after Wicken Lode and Upware I hopped across the A1123 onto Docking’s Lane and onto NCN11 along the back of Wicken.  Stopping to take some pictures of these daisies enjoying the Indian Summer.

After cycling down Drury (the back of Wicken) and then onto Drove Lane (a track) and through to Brack’s Drove I had a brief stop. This is a bridleway/byway between Wicken and Soham which in places is a path with hedgerows along each side. At the moment the path is good, because it has been do dry, it can be very muddy in places though. In fact it has been so dry there are deep ruts opening up that you have to be careful not to get you bicycle wheel stuck in.

Sometimes I see people ranging from cyclists to horse riders to people walking. This time around there were 30-40 young children with adults and pushchairs heading from Soham to Wicken.  It looked a bit like a school walk – except there were more adults than you’d normally expect. What was good to see was the kids amazement and pleasure as new views and places to explore opened up. To an adult it is a path to a kid and adventure and a reminder to me to look around a bit more.

Brack’s drove led onto Mill Drove which was a road with a tarmac surface which crossed the railway line at an angle – so requiring some attention. The route then crossed a small river//stream by way of Horse Bridge. Actually you do see quite a few horses grazing along side Mill Drove. This stream was Soham Lode, although it didn’t look quite so man-made as some of the other lodes around here.

After Soham came a bridleway to Larkhall Road and Cockpen Road and another level crossing at an angle.  Just after was this pattern in the field – I think that whoever ploughed this must have been had an artistic flair.

I don’t really like the “main” road between Fordham and Burwell and take the back way into Burwell by way of a bridleway past Ness Farm leading onto Broad’s Road. I’d hit the rush hour though – there were several vehicles coming down the track.  I stopped on the verge but even then got a close-up view of this Combine.

The bridleway was in good nick, it had recently been flattened. The reason was that there were some electricity works taking place in some corner of a field. There was also abright blue Bailey Bridge over Catch Water Drain and the track across the fields had also been surfaced.

As you can see Catchwater Drain wasn’t the largest water course around these parts.

Back to the bridleway heading towards Burwell – it too had been flattened – I’ve never seen it look so flat – the only problem was that in places it was a bit soft and I had to work at keeping my wheels from digging in.

After passing through Burwell and Reach I was just about to cycle along Black Droveway but not before stopping to take a picture of these tyres dumped on Barston Drove (which heads to Swaffham Prior). Just recently I have passed quite a lot of dumped tyres. They all seem to have been tagged by the “Authorities” asking if anyone has any information  on who might have dumped them.

As the nights start to draw in a little and have noticed that the chances of seeing deer out in the fields has increased. I saw three deer as I was cycling along Whiteway drove towards Swaffham Prior – they watched me for quite a while, but as soon as I got my camera out they all went racing off.

I have to say that I really enjoy pootling around the countryside in this glorious sunny warm weather. I can’t say I am looking forward to a windy autumn – I do like cycling on snow though.

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