Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The wilds of Wicken Fen in the snow makes for tiring cycling :-)

Monday, 6th February 2012: Sometimes I get caught up in stuff that just needs doing and so despite working from home I seem to run out of cycling time. Mind you I reckon to cycle pretty much every day, but only to visit my local newsagent for the morning paper. Even that short trip is most welcome, but regardless of the state of the flesh the spirit considers a 50Km/30m ride as a treat. I am not a racer, but I do enjoy a good meander on my bike, whether it is around the countryside, in foreign climes of just around Cambridge on my way to a meeting.

The trouble is if I haven’t been cycling for a wee while my head says let’s just pop up to Wicken Fen and back, whilst my legs tend to complain as I rapidly tire from lack of recent exercise.

I struggled to do much cycling on Sunday because of the snow but here in the flatlands the snow does seem to melt pretty quickly so I decided to sneak off for a midday ride on Monday to make up for the cycling I haven’t been doing. On my way out of Cambridge is used the roads – whilst there is some commitment to grit cycle paths in Cambridge shown in pink on this pdf map it does appear to be a bit patchy and the trouble is it only takes a small patch to cause problems on a bicycle as I found out  a couple of weeks ago when I fell off my bike cycling through the Newmarket Road Park & Ride site.

The trouble is it seems to me that cyclists and pedestrians alike are treated as second class citizens when it comes to snow clearance. Various bodies such as the AA and RAC act as an effective mouthpiece for the interests of the members (including me) when we drive, but when we cycle or walk we don’t have the same lobbying. To be fair we do have the Cambridge Cycling campaign in Cambridge which does monitor and campaign – here is an article from February/March 2011.

It is an uphill battle though – “It’s snow go for cyclists as ploughs fail to reach track” reports on the failure to grit some parts of the CGB cycleway. Even the council doesn’t quite know what they grit and what they don’t.  When they do grit they seem to grit narrow channels rather than the width of the track. Why is it that route planners seem to think that cyclists have zero width?  (In a bit of positive CGB news – there is “apparently a small level of crime” including the theft of 13 cycles.

Mind you cyclists have had to put up with routes that are an odd jumble of shared-use paths and rambles around the houses, well motorists also suffer from un-joined up thinking. If the road is nicely cleared to get into town – what do you need next – yes parking – well “Disruption at Cambridge car parks thanks to snow” reports on the lack of snow clearance from some  of the town’s car parks. Mind you what happens after you park, shock horror yes,  you need to walk and according to the comments that follow that article that wasn’t easy either.

So on Monday I avoided the NCN51 route between the Newmarket Road P&R and Bottisham there were too many patches of snow, I also avoided the shared-use path between Bottisham and Lode – again too much snow. Whilst barrelling through a small patch of snow in a car is not that dangerous – on a bicycle it is a completely different matter.

I was expecting the roads in Lode to be a little more tricky, but they were not too bad, despite the much reduced traffic, particularly on the other side of the village on Fen Road. I passed quite a few snowmen on my way out of town – there were a few in the villages as well.

This is Fen Road, a bit of slush but fairly clear – it didn’t cause me any concern on my bicycle anyway.

When I reached White Fen I was surprised how much of the snow had cleared – it seems to be hanging around the tarmac cycle paths that anywhere else. This bit of the Lodes Way was nicely clear.

A view down Swaffham Bulbeck Lode shows how cold it has been – the water had a layer of ice – although not skatable. that’s for sure.

The unnamed road between Swaffham Bulbeck Lode and Whiteway drove had some patches of snow and the ramps either side of the Swaffham Bulbeck Bridge were also still covered in some lumpy snow. It wasn’t until I left the Great drove/Headlake Drove/Little Fen Drove crossroads that I really started to concentrate.

This section of Lodes Way is off the beaten track and is a no-through road route. I doubt it gets gritted and there is not sufficient passage of vehicles to clear the snow either. What I was wary of was whether the snow had been compressed to ice in the tyre tracks.

The trouble is on a bicycle all it takes is for the front wheel to start skidding on an icy surface and you generally fall off. But you main feedback on how slipper the road is comes from the back wheel. Sometimes I will squeeze the back brake to check how “easy” it is to skid, sometimes you feel the traction going as you pedal. That all happens after the front wheel has passed over the surface though.

I didn’t fall off or even skid much, I did find myself passing through areas of drifted snow – not enough to block my way, but enough to need some momentum and enough to decorate my wheels. Actually they are the latest deep rim wheels for my time-trialling. (On the reach lode bridge.)

Nerd smile

As you can see this lode was also frozen over although the temperature was over freezing point from 10am to around 8pm with a blip of sunshine just before 4pm as well.

This is the view looking back the way I had come – with my slightly meandering trye track in the snow patches on the bridge.

I had to take it slowly going down the other side of the bridge as well where I met the guardian of Burwell Fen -  or rather the snow-guardian.

This part of Lodes Way had quite a lot of snow still lying on the track as you can see from the view looking back towards Reach lode bridge. Although it didn’t feel dangerously slippery it was surprisingly hard work cycling along this snowy track.

This is the view looking back just before Burwell Lode by the cattle grids. You can also see the track left by my tyres. Looking on the bright side all the effort of cycling along this track stopped me from feeling cold. In fact I was pretty hot and sweaty. (This picture is made from two stitched together.)  As I passed Newnham drove I did see what might have been a short-eared owl, but I was too busy looking at the track to follow its path, I couldn’t find it when I stopped ready with my camera.

So when I got to the footbridge over Burwell Lode I stopped for a breather, or should that be a cooler? This lode had some open water – but it sill looked pretty bleak.

This is the view of Burwell Fen Farm at the end of Newnham Drove in the middle of Burwell Fen.  That might even be the blip of sun recorded by the Cambridge DTG group.

The ride around to Wicken Fen along NCN11 was even harder that the bit through Burwell Fen. It was moderately thick and lumpy so I did a bit of slipping and sliding and heaving to keep my bike moving. As I cycled over the bridge over Monk’s Lode I did worry that I might slide into the water. (it is known as Normans Bridge).

Here is a bit more of the sun shining down over a frigid Bakers Fen.

And here is the guardian of Wicken Fen. It looks like a cross between a snowman and K9. Check out Johns’ blog for more snow-people of Wicken Fen.

As it had been such hard work going through Wicken Fen I pondered my return options and was almost set to cycle back on the roads via Upware when I thought I would take a chance on the Maltings Path. Whilst the path wasn’t brilliant it was not as bad as the Wicken Fen route and it was shorter.

I headed home via Burwell though – I didn’t fancy another drag through the snow – what was it I said about enjoying cycling on snow. You certainly notice lots more deer in this snowy weather as well as see their tracks. I think it is partly because they are more visible against the white fields. On the road down to Burwell I probably saw around 20 on the fields either side of the road.

They were presumably looking for exposed patches to feed on.

After cycling through Burwell and along to Reach my enthusiasm for dealing with snow on the road increased so I cycled back via the Swan Lake granary and  Little Fen Drove past New Gant Farm (according to the map).

I carried along Lodes Way, stopping to take a picture of White Fen from Swaffham Bulbeck Lode, it was the pastel skies that caught my eye.

Here they are behind the pylons, which are very visible in this part of the world. In fact I have probably stopped noticing them when taking pictures.  Apparently we will be need lots more to cope with the wind farms being planned.

As I cycled back through to Lode one last picture of the pastel skies. I think that Stow-cum-Quy Fen is dead ahead.

It was a most enjoyable ride – but I was absolutely plum-tuckered when I got home. I had a bath and then allegedly started snoring whilst watching television with my wife before supper. Of course I don’t snore so I couldn’t have fallen asleep!



  1. Lovely pictures - it was the snowman at Wicken Fen which caught my eye initially and led me to your blog as I helped build it and a couple of others which were by the visitors centre door - there was some friendly rivalry going on between the wardens. Have you photoshopped them at all - I just ask as the light is spectacular - really gives them an atmosphere. Good luck with the cycling - Kate - Volunteer Warden - Wicken Fen

    1. Hiya Kate,

      I use a technique known as HDR. basically you take a number of pictures at different exposures and then a piece of software reconstructs the picture. The idea being to recreate what the eye might see rather than the limited range of the camera. Some people don't like it - but as you can see I do and use it quite a lot.

      They were good snowmen and keep up the good work at Wicken Fen, it is a great place to cycle around.