Sunday, March 11, 2012

A byway less sticky–please

Thursday, 8th March 2012: As I have said a few times before I cycle for a bunch of different reasons. One of the reasons for cycling is to “explore” – not quite the epic round the world exploits of some cyclists like Josie Dew or Mark Beaumont. Although it was reading some of Josie Dew’s books that inspired me to venture a bit further afield when cycling.

I cycled from Bangkok to Saigon in a small organised ride a few years back and had a fantastic time. I later followed it up with a ride in India with my son in a slightly larger group. Again it was a wonderful time. Life becomes very simple – you cycle, eat and look. I am planning, in the loosest sense to cycle in Japan. It is a country I have visited quite a few times, mainly for business and once with my family and I would love to explore it on a bicycle.

However you can also explore on your own doorstep. It amazes me how despite having cycled around the flatlands of East Anglia there are still areas that I haven’t visited on my bike. Even in places I know well taking a different route can make familiar scenery look quite different.

I love cycling around the Wicken Fen area and am looking forward to when the byways and bridleways get a little drier and less sticky so I can ring the changes on my cycling routes. Actually there are some pretty decent “off-road” routes in all directions making use of the green lanes and country roads. I think we have a pretty high and growing population density in the flatlands – at least in the more immediate vicinity of the City of Cambridge. However the importance of agriculture means that Cambridgeshire is actually in the bottom 25%  of England's counties when ranked by population density. we have 233 people per Km2. This compares with Bristol at 4,026 people/Km2, Leicestershire (443 people/Km2), Norfolk (161 people/Km2) and Northumberland at 62 people/Km2.

Perhaps that is why there is a lot of pressure to build more houses and towns and stuff more people into the County. Let’s also hope that they don’t forget to make these new towns nicer, more sustainable places to live. I also hope they don’t just cut the byways and footpaths in two as, inevitably, new roads get built.

As I was heading out along the NCN51 from Cambridge instead of cycling around Wicken Fen I thought I would check out the Roman Road from Cambridge out past Balsham. This is another of the great off-road routes out of Cambridge. In general it is quite cycle-able, although there are ruts near the Balsham end and they can be tricky. It can also get soggy at the far end as well.

My original plan was to cycle up to Balsham and then take a nameless byway (marked on the County rights of Way map as Path No: 2 with the name 14/3), but I didn’t the last bit of the route into Balsham put me off.

Here is the Bike Route Toaster Link to the map shown below. It is around 60Km/37.5 miles in length and you do a bit of climbing as it reaches the dizzy heights of 110m above sea level. It is a great route to cycle but tricky enough that I would have thought teenagers for the most part if you go with your family. My eldest is over 20 he can cycle up hills quicker than I can without any training. I think the power to weight ratio is in his favour. When my son and daughter were younger we used to go to Thetford Forest which was a great place to cycle – although my daughter found the number of dogs a bit intimidating.

I headed towards the Wilbrahams on the Wilbraham Road rather than the Little Wilbraham Road. I think it is nicer – cars speed along the somewhat narrower Little Wilbraham Road although if you follow the link you will see that they both meet up at a cross-roads just outside Little Wilbraham. I carried on down the rather quaintly named Primrose Farm Road.

As has been a theme in my pictures taken recently another freshly drilled field. Look how flat it is. It must take a lot of farming over a long time to achieve that level of flatness. I think we forget sometimes how unnatural a lot of the English countryside is. Whilst checking out the map there are tracks that do not appear to be rights of way on the map and look as if they might have been bits of the old wartime airfield at Bottisham.

As I was cycling through Great Wilbraham I noticed there were sticky buds already coming into leaf on the horse chestnut in play area.  This tree always seems to be one of the fist to come into leaf in the Spring around the flatlands. (Here is the link to that post – “The Roman Road to Westley Bottom and back Part 1” It is the 2nd picture down and was taken on March 14th, 2011.

Although we I might be thinking about Spring – most trees don’t have any leaves showing. After passing through Fulbourn and taking the no through Babraham Road you can see it is an avenue of bare trees. (Check out “A soggy Poets day” five pictures down to see it in Autumn.

The last bit between the road and the Roman Road is a path through a strip of grass which has recently had some trees planted. As a result the path was quite slippery in places. This is the view looking from the Roman Road back towards Babraham Road – with the freshly planted line of trees.

And from the same vantage point, but looking along the line of the hedgerow of the Roman Road in the Cambridge direction.They did know how to build straight roads in those days. (This is on the outside of the hedgerow.)

This is the roman road, looking in the Balsham direction as you can see there is a bit of a hill to cycle up. Copley Hill is to the right with a tumulus. As I was taking these pictures there were some dog walkers and a big Dalmatian heading in my direction.  When the walkers saw me they called the dog back – which always has me wondering whether it might be a cycle-chasing dog.

I really don’t need a dog snapping at my wheel as I cycled along a muddy track up a hill. I didn’t let that stop me from taking pictures though.

Nothing happened and they were the only people I saw on the Roman Road. When I reached the crossing over the A11 at Worsted Lodge I stopped to take a picture of the Roman Road looking back the way I had come. One of the nice thing about this route is the way it changes – you pass though Beech Trees, up and down hills on single-track even over busy roads.

The same picture but at a higher zoom, you can just see how the track further back has three or four different tracks to choose from.

This bit of the Roman Road climbs up to around 91m and passes a bridleway to Hildersham on the right and Gunner’s Hall on the left (not the hall but pictures of the nearby trig point). As I cycled up here trying to avoid too much wheel slip I found myself trying to unzip my jacket whilst cycling one-handed and trying to maintain sufficient momentum.

After a while the Linton Water Tower in Rivey Hill comes into view as you get closer to the B1052

Although to be fair, it is closer when using a zoom lens than when not. This is the same view but at minimum zoom. I perhaps should also admit to a couple of dabs along the track as it reaches the B1052. This bit is rutted, sometimes I make it without dabbing a foot down and sometimes I don’t. This time it looked as if I was going to make it so I stopped concentrating.

The last bit of the Roman Road I cycled along, between the B1052 and the Icknield Way Trail into Balsham. This is being cleared which will hopefully help in the long-run. There is a sign warning about the works at the entrance from the B1052. I can’t easily track down any mention of it on the web though.

Up until  this point I was finding the ride along the Roman Road quite straightforward. At this point I changed my mind. The byway from from the road to the Balsham turn-off was hard work and that hard work went on for around 1Km. I think I managed to cycle pretty much all of the track, with only one unplanned dismount, It was hot work though and in places I found I was having to cycle along the edge.  The unplanned dismount was caused by lack of attention. I had built up a bit of momentum and was looking around only to find I had cycle along the edge of a rut, which my front wheel slid into. It was a relief to reach the byway heading off to Balsham.

That turned out to be even worse. I stopped counting how many dabs and in the end walked the  last 50m or so. It was wet, muddy and rutted. The real problem was the mud though. This is the view looking back down the byway and although it doesn’t look too bad my rear wheel was coated in mud. Both brakes were clogged and the front gear mechanism.

After taking a few pictures I cycled back along the lane which was hard-packed gravel after the mud lane and cycled through all the puddles to try and wash some of the mud away. This is Linton Water Tower – I couldn’t hold the camera still enough to take a set of exposures to convert it to an HDR picture – the tower kept appearing as multiple images when combined. (It was with quite a high level of zoom and I was puffing after having to pedal twice as far as the bike moved forward on the slippery mud.

At this point I decided to switch to a road route home. Although the byways are quiter round this part of the world the country lanes aren’t that busy.

After passing through West Wratting and turning off along Six Mile Bottom Road and then turned off down Grange Road. (I am sure the last time I looked at this map the road wasn’t named – it isn’t on the WTP version of the OS map. these OSM maps are pretty good – I find that they are often better than the OS map. Although to be fair to the OS map the Icknield Way (a bridleway) is missing from just past Crick’s Farm to Grange Road on the OSM map.

And yes the cycle route will involve going uphill to the same height as that strip of trees.

Although the road first bends to the left and then to the right. This is the view taken just where the road curves in the last picture. What surprised me was that this used to be a row of trees – I guess they have cleared it to allow the stream to flow? If I had taken the alternate more off-road route then I would have crossed this stream at a ford by the nearby pumping station.

There are quite a few belts of trees around here. This field is the one adjacent to the stream in the last picture.

After that it was a fairly uneventful ride home. After all the mud even the hills didn’t seem bad. I did stop to checkout the cycle parking provision at Dullingham Station. The good news is they have three cycle stands. The better news is that more people park there bikes there and so stay healthy and don’t pollute the environment – at least there is some spare fencing. The car park is free as well.

Ah well at least I got a bit of byway cycling in, although I’ll wait until it gets a bit drier before using the other byways.

I haven’t seen the Northern Lights yet.

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