Thursday, February 16, 2012

The going is soft to sticky around the Fens

Tuesday, 14th February 2012: The snow is disappearing fast around here, so fast that I had to go and look for some whilst it was still hanging around. As my cycling has gotten a bit sporadic just recently I decided I deserved a ride during the day, despite there being no reason. Having just been reading about the CGB cycleway I originally planned to cycle up to St Ives and back to have a look for myself. In the end I didn’t, instead I cycled on NCN11, the one alongside the River Cam to Clayhithe and then along the Harcamlow Way to Lode and thence to Upware around Wicken and back along the Lodes Way/NCN51.

I have been this way before – but for good measure here is the map and here is the BRT link. It is a shade over 50Km/30 miles and flat.  The day I went out it was almost spring-like in terms of the temperature, although it was a grey day with not much wind.

As you can see the recent snow was disappearing quickly, although there were still patches of slush on the path alongside the River Cam. By this point it was pretty soft and so there was little danger of slipping on it. I did slow down passing walkers though it would not have done to splash them.  I don’t think I mentioned it before, but during the really cold weather my bicycle bell stopped working. Instead of a nice ping it gave a dull thud – a very quiet thud at that. The fine weather had gotten a few people out walking and I also passed a few cyclists – but the path wasn’t crowded.

In this picture you can also get a sense of how still it was from the quality of reflection of the trees in the water.

This is Baits Bite Lock where there was a ripple on the water – it is a little more open here. The link mentions that the footbridge is the only pedestrian crossing, of the River Cam, between Chesterton and Horningsea. The footbridge also has a metal channel to help cyclists get their bikes over. Here is an afternoon ride taking in the route over the lock by the CTC. (It does point out that technically there is not a right of way after the bridge for cyclists.  They must have carried their bikes then!)

I carried along the path up the side of the river to Clayhithe. This is the view looking back down the Cam from the road bridge. It was a grey day, with the odd patch of brightness as the sun struggled to shine through the clouds.

The same view but zooming in a bit.  You can see how patches of the river get caught and rippled by the wind whilst other bits look much calmer.

I headed back down towards Horningsea, turning off along the Harcamlow Way. You have to be a little careful turning into the layby – which has loads of potholes.

The first part of the track is pretty solid, although the gravel was a bit soggy. The ditches are a bit more shaded alongside the track and still held quite a bit of snow.  

The snow had pretty much melted of the fields though.

As you can see the sun never really managed to get through the clouds. The early crops seems to be popping up though.

After the early gravel path it all got very much stickier. There weren’t any real ruts to cope with nor was the mud that deep, but it was very sticky. Sticky enough that I kept going, I passed these Aconites thinking I should have stopped, ah well too late now. But in the end I did turn around and cycle back.

Here are the same Aconites alongside the path, which doesn’t look that bad – believe me it was much harder to cycle along than it looks. Although the worst bit for mud was near Allicky Farm.

The path along the disused Cambridge to Mildenhall Railway line was also wet and sticky – again it doesn’t look much but I was looking forward to cycling on a bit of road.  I stopped to take a picture of the cloud pattern in the sky.

At the far end of the old railway line, near Lode there was still a bit of snow in the fields – it must be a bit more sheltered here. The last little bit of the route before the road is called Harvey’s Droveway and it was the worst of the lot.  It is a working route and has three paths that lead from it. It gets quite rutted but this time it was rutted with large puddles and sticky mud. My approach was to cycle straight through the middle of puddles that, from memory, weren’t too bad It threw up more mud and water but made it easier to avoid slipping over. from time to time the rear wheel did slip as I pedalled though, but I managed to keep the bike going and didn’t have to stop in the middle of a puddle. (When I say puddle these were quite a few centimetres deep.)

After getting back onto the road I was able to go a bit faster. This field was very black, much blacker than it looks in the picture. I had stopped and dumped my bike on the grass to take the picture and a passing motorist stopped to ask if I was alright.  I am not sure if it is me being biased but I do feel that generally there is more willingness to help others out in the countryside. I have been offered assistance more than once by motorists when out riding. Or maybe I look so pathetic. I have been offered help many more times by cyclists though.

Despite the warmer weather the Upware Washes were still frozen.

The route through Wicken Fen was pretty unpleasant, at least the first bit up until Norman’s Bridge. This bit alongside Monk’s Lode was fine – as you can see Monk’s Lode was also still frozen over.

A bit further along the side of Monk’s Lode you can often hear water gushing out on the other side of the path. This time the gush was so strong I could see it as well. There is quite a lot of water movement in the Winter around the fens.

I’ve said it before – but I’ll say it again, after getting home I had a soak in the bath – it was wonderful. Not that the ride was a hardship – I enjoyed that as well.


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