Tuesday, March 6, 2012

We plough the fields and scatter the good plastic on the ground Part 1

Saturday, 3rd March 2012: As I was on roll as far as the week’s cycling was concerned I took advantage of the reasonable weather on Saturday to cycle up to Ely and back.  It was a journey I haven't made for a while. We had also done the weekly shopping earlier and my wife was also going to take advantage of the weather to do a bit of work in the garden (one of her hobbies).

Mind you, in what would be a major step forward I must first mention that “3,000-space cycle park for Cambridge Station is step closer”. It would seem that even the powers that be in Central Government are pretty p*ssed of with the way our local government has allowed the atrocious cycle parking situation to drag on at the Cambridge Railway Station. Local leadership seems to be a bit of an oxymoron if you ask me.

Whilst I am at it I might as well mention a couple of the other things hanging around on my internet browser. It looks like parents parking badly near schools are going to see a crackdown – “Teach parents a lesson for bad parking, police are told”. Apparently in South Cambs they have been warning parents for a long time about illegal parking and according to Cllr Geoff Heathcock – “I’ve come to the conclusion that, after a long period of using the carrot, it’s now time for a very long stick”!

Personally I do think this is a problem, but I do worry how the prioritisation of issues like these happens – I guess it is democracy in action. But as a cyclist I can see that similar processes might choose to crackdown on pavement cyclists yet ignore the real dangers to vulnerable road users.

I was also appalled, but not unduly surprised to read “Couple stunned after bus door ‘closed in wife’s face’“. I have always been under the impression that customer service was important to the success and health of a business. Too many businesses don’t seem to get that though. When my kids caught the bus to school they used to highlight one driver who would stop and if his bus was full ring the depot to get another one along. The sad thing is they felt he was the exception to the normal level of service. It was bad enough that being late for the first lesson was not considered being late.

I am still sad to see that there will be cuts in the bus service – “Bus cuts list official”. The problem of transport is a bit of a seesaw – if the public transport isn’t good enough you create a situation where families have to have a car or even cars.  When that happens then it makes the need for public transport even less and so makes its provision less viable.

I listened to a “More or Less” broadcast recently (via podcast) on “Less than a dollar a day” – 2 March 2012.It was analysing the issue of poverty and how it used to be characterised as having a daily income of less than $1 a day. Despite good intentions this characterisation has led to benevolent giving rather than development of the economies. (As in the Chines proverb – “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”)

Another definition of poverty is when over 10% of your income is spent on a particular item – so “fuel poverty” is defined as when a household spends more than 10% of the household income on fuel to keep the home in a "’satisfactory’ condition. This term is now being mis-applied (in my view) to the costs of running a car.  “Motorists ‘crucified by rising price of fuel’” discusses an MPs view that the average motorist spends around £1,700 a year on fuel for the car and so consequently are in “fuel poverty”.

The issue is really one of do you need that car or not to have a ‘satisfactory’ life? I can see that living in the countryside without a car could be challenging, especially if the bus services are cut, however there are alternatives to that “poverty”. using the AA tables (as of today) a small car costs 13.45p per mile in petrol costs to run. Which taking the figure of £1,700 on fuel costs suggests an annual mileage of 12,639 miles.

Now I am not young, I am not super-fit and I am over-weight, yet I reckon to cycle between 5,000 – 7,000 miles a year. So if I were Mr Average I would have stopped being fuel poor at a stroke. Not only would I have stopped my “transport fuel poverty” I would also have improved my “transport” provision from being merely satisfactory to being really good thank you. Now I accept that some of my friends and colleagues do view me as a little eccentric – because of my cycling – but in my view I want a right to good transport – not a right to own a car. Peak oil is gonna happen – so why base society around a resource that the UK doesn’t have much of?

It also turns out that in Cambridge “nearly one resident in four is now a student” – if it means more cyclists let’s have more. Whilst I am not a fan of  the safety in numbers argument applied to cyclists I do believe more cyclists means more investment and better facilities which can lead to safer cycling.

To reinforce just how car centric we have become read this post on As Easy As Riding a Bike – “How to foster healthier lifestyles in Horsham”. It comments on a letter written by a Doctor arguing that a 50p increase in the cost of parking will stop people parking in order to go to the local gym or walk in the park and so have a detrimental affect on health.  Now the Doctor in question might not have a medical qualification – but please.

Talking about medical matters (sort of) when I cycled on longer tours – Land’s End to John O’Groats,  Bangkok to Saigon and around the Kerala in India I used Sudocrem to keep my under-carriage in order. I used it because it worked, not because it was cheap. Well apparently “The latest beauty must-have? A £2.75 tub of nappy rash cream”. (Yes Sudocrem).  I think I will stick with applying it to my nether regions – I am not sure whether it would do anything for my beauty.

I also ought to do my bit for public service and warn you about a possible danger to public morals. You’ve heard of beer goggles (don#t worry it is a Wikipedia link) well the latest siren temptation – beer-lips.

And at last – a bit about my trip to Ely. For a change I went out of Cambridge via NCN51 and then turned off in Swaffham Prior and took the Upware Road. A muddy-ish short-cut got me onto NCN11 bypassing Wicken and then on the outskirts of Wicken I returned via Soham and then switched to the Lodes Way after Wicken. Although the route does take a view byways and bridleways I was easier than I thought it might be. Here is the Bike Route Toaster Link to the map shown below. It is 70Km/44 miles in length, but pretty much as flat a route as you can get.

After Swaffham Prior you are at the mercy of the winds because of the open countryside – although it is better to battle the winds going out and have them behind you coming back. The road out of Swaffham Prior starts of being called Station Road, as it used to take you to the Cambridge Mildenhall railway line station for the village. Since Lodes Way opened up and whilst the Black Droveway is wet and muddy I tend not to cycle along here. Be warned apparently the road is slippery.

In my experience this is not actually a slippery road so I wonder if the sign is just to cover the odd occasion when the farming movements have dragged a bit of peat onto the road and it has rained as well.

It certainly is bumpy though – those bumps are good for slowing down the vehicles that use the road as well.

As the weather turns to Spring a young farmer’s mind turns to field bondage. At least that is what it seems like, once minute the fields have been ploughed and drilled and the next minute and they are covered in plastic.

As you can see the strips are laid over the freshly drilled seeds and are permeable. In some cases they are apparently bio-degradable, I have seen farmers lift the plastic once the crop establishes. Sometimes the crop grows through the plastic and sometimes I grows under.

According to this article “Plastic gives an average 30 per cent yield boost for maize”. The article suggests that for every one pound spent on degradable plastic the grower should expect three pounds in extra yield return. I would also presume that plastic will bring forward the harvesting dates of some crops and so enable the farmer to sell when the prices are higher.

It is referred to as Plastic Mulch in Wikipedia. Here is a rather good picture of plastic sheeting across a field in Northern Ireland.

As you can see the sheeting is laid corner to corner. (This is the same field as the one above.)

On the other side of the road they’ve either sown some strange crops or the drilling pattern is different.

After the excitement of plastic fields I thought I would avoid cycling along the A1123 and instead after passing through Upware crossed the main road and took High Fen Road which  leads to the Kingfishers Bridge project “which has transformed 150 acres of arable farmland into a mosaic of wildlife habitats”. Apparently whilst I though the bat cave was near Gotham City it was in fact on this project. The project also gets a mention on John’s Blog – the Wicken Fen Vision Warden.

I turned off down Shaw’s Drove instead, I didn’t see any low-flying motorbikes though. It was quite muddy in places – although I cycled down here without any mishaps or dabs of feet.

Shaw’s Drove does dry out, and does make a useful cut across to NCN11 which runs along Padney Drove though Padney, although don’t blink as you will miss it. After passing Old Fordey House and heading up Goose Fen Drove I did stop to get some photographic evidence of Spring – on the hedgerow there a leaves just starting to appear.

This is what it looks like in the Summer:

I haven’t been this way for a while and so was pleased to see that the short path from Barway through to the off-road route past the River great Ouse had been well patched up.

As you can see the plastic fields were also much in evidence – this picture is two pictures stitched together.

The tractors than had been laying the plastic are at the bottom and there seem to be bags to weigh the plastic down. The width between the strips is just enough to allow a tractor to be driven down the gap.

I have seen this boat before on the far bank of the River great Ouse, it almost looks is if it was out of control and rammed the bank.

The shared-use path along the top of the bank with the River great Ouse on one side and the low-lying fields on the other. The bridge you can just about see across the river is the bridge carrying the A142 into Ely. The route into Ely is a bit of a bottleneck and apparently work on the new Bypass is set to begin in earnest – so there be some changes round here.

I know I often moan about the lack of provision of cycle-parking at Cambridge Railway Station. Whenever I have been to Ely Station there have seemed to be spaces.  Although with this bike locked up to the gate I wonder if the nearby railway station must have run out of cycle parking space.

I then headed down towards  Stuntney. Fortunately you can cycle on the shared-use path and then turn off and cycle through Stuntney to avoid the main road (A142). The village seems to have lost its website.

You then have a 0.6Km/0.4mile ride along the road to get to the Barway turn-off. I then turned off down to Soham just before the level crossing.

I should mention that there were signs warning of road closure on some road, the name of which I didn’t recognise. I reckon the nine times out of ten road closures don’t really apply to bicycles. Generally you can walk around them on the pavement and a couple of times I have been waved through road works even when large hunks of machinery are laying gouts of tarmac. I generally always say hello to road-workers and pretty much always get a friendly reception.

As I approached the outskirts of Soham I was slightly apprehensive – as the road had further closure notices and there was not yet a pavement. Still as long as I didn’t have to wade through a 100m of wet tarmac I should be ok.

The roadworks were the result of Anglian Water doing some construction work to improve the drainage. Part 2 – arriving soon.

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