Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A cycle ride to Ely – out in the sun, back in the dark

Tuesday, 15th November: After driving to Ely a few times I thought it was time to cycle there. The bonus was that it was sunny and not windy, the downside was that with the clear skies it was quite cool.  So I ended up wearing a few layers of clothing on top, I also wore my cycling boots (Shimano MW80) and thick socks, as my toes always seem to be the first appendages to feel the cold. However since it is the legs that do most of the work I stuck with shorts. As if often the case, the boots look as if they have been discontinued.

A couple of snippets of news – apparently “Police ramp up patrols to thwart cyclists at station”  - now this isn’t all out war – just the Police trying to stop cyclists from locking there bikes to the access ramp, recently installed between the car park and the station. As you might expect there are quite a few comments already. Interestingly one commenter points out that the “Disabled parking bays” are over by the Travel Centre – so perhaps the fuss should be about why the disabled facilities are being installed in the wrong place?

A not so good piece of news – “Hunt for driver who injured cyclist and failed to stop”. Let’s hope they get caught. Although the cyclist was not seriously injured she did go to Addenbrookes.

Also good news for those using the Cycle way alongside the CGB (Cambridge Guided Busway) – the Council has just bought a snowplough – although it is actually a multi-purpose vehicle and I presume will be able to keep other cycleways clear as well.

Slightly worryingly it seems that there are “safety fears as free children’s cycling lessons scrapped”. Cycle training used to be provided free and as I understand it by volunteers, it was then provided for by Safer Cycling (funded by the council) and Bikeability (funded by the Cycle Cambridge Campaign.  However in this time of austerity the funding has been cut and it will either need to be met by the schools or passed on to the parents.

When I was around 10 or 11 my parents wouldn’t let me cycle generally around the roads until I passed my Cycling Proficiency test which combined an understanding of the relevant rules of the road and bike handling skills – cycling slowly, being able to look behind and use hand signals. Ince I passed my test then I was allowed to roam more freely on my bicycle. It was also assumed that when I moved onto Secondary Education that I would cycle to and from school, which I did.  It wasn’t far around 3Km/2 miles each way, slightly uphill on the way home, but nothing too bad.  At the weekends it was not unusual to then cycle off for the day with some sandwiches, returning in the evening – and remember we didn’t have mobile phones in those days.

Presumably the Council is hoping that either the School PTAs will pick up the cost or the parents will. The likelihood is that this will reduce the number of children being taught to cycle, which will cut the number of children cycling to school, which will increase the number of cars taking kids to school.  Try hanging around a school when it starts or ends and you will see loads of cars diving in and out, sometimes stopping in the road to let their kids in  or out. Clearly if that happens more parents will have second thoughts about letting their kids cycle to school.

Meanwhile was are told that exercise can help people to be happy and oh yes “solve the obesity crisis'”, the article goes on to indicate that if obesity goes up across the UK by 40% by 2030, as predicted, it will cost the NHS an extra £2bn per year. IN round numbers there are 4m kids in Secondary education in England. which implies that assuming they are spread over 7 year groups that there are about 600,000 kids in a year group.  To train all of these to cycle would cost £15 x 600,000 which is £9m. A lot of money – but a lot less than £2bn. Now of course cycling would not fix the Obesity epidemic alone, but the message sent out is one of abandonment of cycling.

Maybe the message is worse, maybe it is that cycling is a second class means of transport and be grateful for the crumbs we give you. Meanwhile London chokes with the pollution. The Bike Show covers the situation in London. The show also suggested that special measures are being taken to minimise the pollution around the areas where it is monitored by treating the roads to hold onto the pollution – just to avoid the fines. It sounds like a classic case of treating the symptoms and not the disease and IMHO it seems immoral. (London does seem to be getting more dangerous for cyclists according to the statistics.)

These are all reasons I like cycling in the countryside.  Here is my route – as I was returning in the dark I went for a “safe” route, sticking, in the main with the NCN routes. It did mean that for around two thirds of the journey I ended up returning on the same route I took out. Here is the Bike Route Toaster Link for the map below. It was a good run out around 70Km/44 miles and it is flat and along roads that are pretty free of traffic or even better off-and-away-from–road.  I was quite surprised to see so many people out and about.

There were bird-watchers at the Newnham Drove/Lodes Way cross-path. There were quite a few dog walkers around Wicken Fen, both on my way out and in the twilight on my way back. One couple seemed to have around 10 dogs with them.  I did worry that they were out late to avoid people because their dogs were not well-behaved. Nothing untoward happened though. Although on the way out one dog walker, whose dog was hanging back and sniffing things, warned me that her dog might bark at me. Fortunately it didn’t, I was pleased as there is a small gap between a barking dog and one that snaps at a cyclists heels.

There were also cyclists around. I passed a few on the NCN11 stretch between Barway and Ely. I also passed a group of four who had cycled up from Reach on the underbank path by the Lode. (That was in the light though.)

As the sun was already quite low in the sky I didn’t hang about to much leaving Cambridge. My first stop was after passing through Lode – the late-afternoon sun gave a warm glow on a cool day. You can also see the uneven road with the sun casting shadows.

An interesting pattern left behind by in the field. I wonder if the farmer used a tracked tractor. It looks pretty dry as well. Apparently this has been the driest year on record.

As I reached White Fen there was a beet clamp being loaded up onto lorries,  well I assume lorries, there was only one there when I passed by. I found this Press Release on Bartlow Estates – but I don’t know whether it connects with this activity.

There has been no activity along Headlake Drove to fix the cracks appearing along both side of the road – except the cracks looked wider in some places. There has been no change on the Fill That Hole report since 6th November either. Is it naive of me to expect some feedback rather than nothing. Further along Lodes Way (where Headlake Drove splits off into Split Drove) there was some ditching work taking place. Then was another digger on Reach Lode as well. On the Wicken Fen website the removal of silt from drainage ditches is called “slubbing”.

Along the stretch of Lodes Way after Newnham Drove and before Burwell Lode the track has a pseudo-Ha-Ha along each edge to safeguard the cattle from ninja-cyclists. The trouble is a real Ha-Ha needs a vertical edge which needs either a wood or brick facing to maintain its integrity. This was built as a ditch with one edge steeper than the other. It looks as if the Ha-Ha is in need of re-in-fencing.  I assume that it just doesn’t do the job.

At the end away from Newnham Drove, looking back the other side has also got some fence poles in as well.  You can see we must have had some rain as the ditch is filling with water.

Along in Wicken Fen I was surprised to see that Baker’s Fen had already been inundated with water. This is usually wet over the winter period. You can hear water gushing a bit further down so this I guess this is managed wetland or wet grasslands along with the Highland Cattle.

As you can see there is not too much grass left uncovered.

And here is the same scene but without the cows. It was starting to get colder as the sun sank in the sky as well.

AI have been over this bridge many times – but only recently found out that it is called Norman’s Bridge (go to the bottom of the webpage). Of course when you know the name you can then find it elsewhere – including on the Wicken Fen walk and this Blog post on elderflower gathering at Wicken Fen..

As it was getting towards sunset and I was half-hoping I would be back towards Wicken Fen to get some interesting pictures I sped up a bit, or rather didn’t take so many pictures. NCN11 passes through Barway and past the G’s operation. They have put this up as a reminder to foreign drivers I presume.

As I cycled through Wicken there were cars parked along one side of Chapel Lane and despite there being barely any room and my position on the road a car driver squeezed past me. Drove down 20-30m and then stopped and started reversing. I carried on down the road and did not let her bully me out of the way. She had to wait until I squeezed past. Although this is quite typical of many motorists it is not so much discourtesy and total lack of awareness of what is going on around them on the road.

As Ely came into sight, I did stop to take a picture of these rowers on the River great Ouse, with the cathedral in the background.

That person at the back must have to wrap up warm they don’t get any oars to play with.

Just before the path passes under the Ely – Ipswich railway line I saw a small freight train – I just about got my camera out in time, but not soon enough to check the shutter speed. The train wasn’t moving that fast but it’s still got movement blur.

As soon as I reached the road I turned around and headed back. Although there wasn’t much wind, what there was was in my favour going back. I also realised I wasn’t going to be able to get back to Wicken Fen as the sun was pretty low. The sun always looks bigger on the horizon, well it does to me anyway, yet it isn’t. Indeed when I was looking at these pictures I’d taken when I got home it looked a lot smaller than I remembered it. This is the Wikipedia explanation for the moon illusion which also works for the sun.

Although the glow looks warm it wasn’t, it gives a nice tinge to the river though.

Ah – it looks bigger now – but only because I had zoomed in. The top of the sun is on fire in this picture. The railway line is the Ely, Cambridge line.

By the time I’d gotten back to Wicken Fen it was getting quite dark. This is Baker’s Fen after sunset. As mentioned early I did have to do a bit of dog-dodging. As I cycled past the Wicken Fen car park I did wonder why there were some many cars still there. Whilst the staff could have accounted for some I’d assumed that the rest were bird-watchers’ cars.

As I cycled past Baker’s Fen even as I was listening to my MP3 player I could hear quite a cacophony of bird noises.

If you look closely at the map you might have wondered whether I got my map tracing wrong through Wicken and Swaffham Bulbeck – no, both the detours were the routes I’d cycled.


  1. I believe that the train is one that travels the network at this time of the year clearing leaves from the line.

  2. Hi Michael,

    Thanks, I didn't look very closely as it passed by at the time. I was expecting a long freight train. Now you've pointed it out I've zoomed in and you can see a mist around the boxes just behind the first engine.