Thursday, May 17, 2012

A bit of fresh air in the Fens

Saturday, 12th May 2012: So where to start, well some weeks don’t turn out quite as you think they might and this is one of those weeks. I had scheduled meetings in London on two separate days and for at least one of them I was thinking of taking my Brompton out for a spin – it is a while since I last cycled in London. Unfortunately I have instead been spending time in Addenbrooke’s Hospital, in a supporting role. It can be shocking when after some routine tests you get a phone call from your doctor telling you to get yourself off to A&E with an overnight bag.

Not only did we get to spend time in A&E we also spent some time in the Clinical decision Unit (the decision was to take us back to A&E – after 3 hours.)  We got to the hospital at around 11am and had the fortune to see a no-nonsense doctor at around 8.30pm who got us going home again after “I will examine you and then we will decide” approach. (So thank you to her and the nurse who made it happen.)

Obviously in a “I only think about my stomach” sort of way I was starving, I did have breakfast but apart from a bar of chocolate  mid-afternoon in a corridor I had nothing all day. At one point we were sitting next to a chap who was probably going to have an operation (at around 10pm) and so was nil-by-mouth, I felt it was wrong to eat in front of him.

I also saw a cyclist in a neck brace being wheeled in from an Ambulance, It is a sobering sight. For my visits to A&E after cycling accidents I have been able to walk in. For some strange reason I also watched the 24 hours in Real A&E last night on Channel 4. Two injured cyclists were “featured” on it.

I didn’t have time to visit the Bike doctors at Addenbrooke’s though – I did see staff with their cycling gear passing though the corridors. Male and Female cyclists – perhaps this Daily mail article is right and that is why there are more male cyclists than female cyclists – according to a Sustrans survey in 2009 79% of British women never cycle at all.

So with that sort of introduction it is hardly surprising that I mention some local cycling accidents.  A “serious but not life-threatening” one in Ely and one in Cambridge during the rush hour. Both were collisions with cars, regular cycling improves your life expectancy, and so is certainly a good thing to do  - who usually comes of worst in a collision between a motor vehicle and a cyclist though? Which is why the duty of care should be higher involving incidents between road users and vulnerable road users.

The trouble is we all make mistakes, fortunately most of them aren’t serious . As humans we also tend to forgive mistakes. The problem comes when considering the difference between two similar mistakes, when one of them has serious consequences. Why do we punish mistakes with consequences more – because it is proven?

It seems to me that as a society just as we want to deter crime we want to deter bad driving and poor driving, yet because we punish on results rather than intent the punishment system operates as a retribution system. Which I suppose is a simple practicality.  The trouble is operating a motor vehicle on the road blurs the line between mistake and intentional wrong-doing because there is an absence of consequence most of the time.

You don’t often hear the excuse that “I didn’t mean to snatch the bag, but the sun was in my eyes” after all. To steal someone else’s possessions is wrong and there is a one to one correlation between the doing and the happening. Most if not all motorists will have exceeded the speed limit at some time or other, and for all but a small number of times that speeding will not have had consequences. 

This can create the impression that speeding does not matter. There are two flaws in this belief. The faster the vehicle the greater the potential for serious injury. For instance the World Health Organisation quotes the statistics: “Pedestrians have a 90% chance of survival when struck by a car travelling at 30Km/h (18.75 mph)  or below, but less than 50% chance surviving an impact at 45Km/h 28mph). Pedestrians have almost no chance of surviving an impact at 80Km/hr (50mph)”.

The second flaw is that it won’t happen to me. Well if there are around 250,000 casualties per year and the population of the UK is 62m then the probability of being in an accident is around 4 in 1000 per year. Which means the probability of being not being in an accident in a year is 96%.So the probability of not being in an accident over two years is 92%. After 17years the probability is 50/50 and after 60 years 8.6%. Or to put it another way less than 1 in 10 will not have been a casualty. Now there are some flaws in my argument, some people will drive less some will drive more. But my point is even if something is low risk if you do enough of it the odds alter greatly. (Or to put it another way the odds of winning the UK lottery are pretty small, but someone does most weeks.)

With speeding the issue is not just of fault, if someone pulls out in front of you,  wrongly, you might not be able to stop at 20mph, let along 30mph of 40mph, however any damage/injury is significantly less at the lower speed.  So whilst the accident might have been inevitable, speeding becomes a significant contributory factor of either party.

Your speeding puts my safety at risk and just like the lottery whilst it might not be me who suffers there are cyclists who do suffer on a daily basis. According to RoSPA around 17,000 cyclists are killed or injured in reported road accidents. For 2010:

Killed:                      111
Seriously injured:    2,660
Slightly injured:     14,414
Total:                   17,185

The trouble is we hate to be delayed when driving – in fact one of the core promises associated with owning a car is the speed and door to door convenience. Take those away and we shout about it. So things that interfere with that speed and convenience become the “enemy” leading to terms like “the war on the motorist”. What a load of complete and utter cobblers, no-one has ever shot at me when I’ve been driving my car.

In that context we have the plans to raise the speed limits to 80mph on Motorways. My first reaction, great – as the Road Safety Foundation has indicated respect for the 70mph limit was poor, but does 80mph mean that some motorists will drive at 90mph.  (And aren’t these the same motorists complaining about the high cost of fuel. I am not sure quite how reliable these figures are – but they indicate that a car’s optimal speed for MPG is 55mph, it becomes 17% less efficient at 70mph and 28% less efficient at 80mph. Or to put it another way if you drive at 80mph rather than 70mph your petrol goes up by 17%. Hard-done by motorists seem to want to be even harder done by.

I see a lot of plonkers when I am out on my bicycle, drivers on their phones, cutting up motorists and cyclists failing to indicate, failing to stop at red lights. I am quite sure that “letting drivers go even faster on Motorways” would make me feel uncomfortable despite the fact I drive a tank Disco.

Lets face it even highly trained and respected armed officers of the law can have their off days when life is just a load of bollards.

One of the other “weapons of war” against poor, unloved, hard-done by motorists is that of the parking fine. Apparently just one street in London saw £1.2m in parking fines in a year. (The headline used additional words like “cash” and “cow” and “hefty”. They can’t really be much of a deterrent if motorists keep coming beck for more can they? One minute motorists are whingeing about congestion the next they whinge about not being allowed to block those same roads. Apparently the Cambridge City Car parks make £8.5m in one year. I suppose it boils down to what services should the Council provide – and presumably it should not provide those services at a loss compared with its other activities. I can understand and believe in a National Health Service – I am not sure the same argument goes for a National Car park Service as a public activity.

You can tell I have not been cycling for too long (a couple of days) I am going on too much. My Saturday ride was delightful. it was a pretty standard ride around Quy Fen and up to Wicken Fen. Although I have done this ride and slight variations many times before I re-drew the map as I couldn’t  find an exact copy. We are still getting rain but the tracks I chose were not too bad. The worst was Docking’s Lane.

I won’t go on about the route – but it starts pleasantly along the River Cam through Stourbridge Common and Ditton Meadows and then along Wadloes path to High Ditch Road before turning off into the countryside on a bridleway called Low Fen Drove Way.

The Drove Way starts as tarmac before becoming more of a gravel road and then a genuine mud track. Normally the mud is hard-packed – although with all the rain we have there are puddles. Around these parts these sorts of tracks tend to dry up pretty quickly as well.

Now I have been along this route many times – but there is still something that quickens the pulse and reminds me just how exciting it is to explore pastures new. That track wiggles off into the distance past yellow fields under skies that don’t suggest rain in the next few hours and not a soul (or sole for that matter) in sight.

Low Fen Drove Way (Near Quy)

And here is the map, I have put on the location for most of the photographs, although I can’t promise I didn’t get the sequence wrong. Here is the Bike Route Toaster Link. It is just over 52Km/31 miles and flat. The worst climbs are bridges – which kind of says it all really. It is a combination of shared use paths, byways and bridleways and country lanes – ideal for a pootle in the countryside and yet close to Cambridge. There is a cafe at Wicken Fen and a number of good pubs in the area, most of which I have visited.

Map of my Ride – Around Quy Fen and Wicken Fen

One of the things like about Spring is that as soon as it starts happening you notice the changes and it certainly lifts the spirits. I like cycling in snow, but not slush and so Spring just becomes and excuse to get and cycle. The great this is though it goes on for longer than you think. depending upon the species of tree the period over which trees start showing leaves can be  from late March through to mid-May.

As you can see these are just spring into leaf.

Trees coming into leaf amidst the yellow fields – Low Fen Drove Way, near Quy

About halfway round as you approach the pylons the route swings more westerly. As I understand it the byway then heads along a very rutted muddy track, there is a concrete track to the side of it that also runs along the side. I sometimes cycling along the rutted byway and sometimes along the concrete track. Both have their perils as I have found myself skidding on the mud on the concrete and getting tangled in the overhanging hedgerow on the byway. The OS map also seems to show the byway running along the rutted track rather than the concrete one. I have just checked the Cambridgeshire County Council rights of Way Map (you might have to move it around and zoom in as the link is generic). It shows the byway as running to the side of the concrete track.

View Larger Map

Well this is how it looks now – someone is either getting fed up with people using the concrete track or is worried that someone might try to move into the space. A week or so ago I did see three 4x4s come through this way and a gate at the end of the concrete track, where it re-joins the byway was open. It is of course still a byway and there are obligations in terms of maintenance of the way through.

Or the land might have recently been sold and the new owner is exerting a right to prevent the new concrete  track becoming a public right of way. There was talk of relocating the Cambridge sewage farm out this way – might this be preliminary works?

Low Fen Drove Way near the Pylons, Quy Fen

After passing Snout Corner and cycling along the Fen Ditton Horningsea Cycleway I cycled through Horningsea and joined the bridleway labelled on some maps as the Harcamlow Way. How splendid it is to be able to cycle along a reasonable track like this through fields of yellow.

The Harcamlow Way, A bridleway near Horningsea

As I come this way quite often I try not to keep on taking the same pictures too often. I did explore SBC’s tip for avoiding the mud at Harvey’s Droveway and checked out but didn’t try the gap in the hedge as I was though by then.  At this point the my route follows The Lodes Way for a while through White Fen. Where I stopped briefly to take this shot of the reflection of a pylon in the Balancing Pond.

Balancing Pond, White Fen on the Lodes Way

As I prefer to return via a different route to my way out I normally leave the Lodes Way and turn up towards Upware. The downside is it is not traffic free, but I am not complaining – the traffic levels of not high – it is a bumpy single track road with passing places.

Crops seem be driven by fashion as much as anything. It is not so long ago the the yellow fields of Oil Seed Rape weren’t to be seen. This part of the world used to see flowers grown in the peat fields.  More recently salad crops and turf seem to be the popular crops. (Not not surf and turf – real turf).

Salad Leaves growing along Great Drove

A close up of the salad leaves, my wife thinks they are some form of red beet leaves as they have red stalks. Although the ones in this picture have green leaves.

Salad Leaves growing along Great Drove

And on the other side, more salad leaves – more like a traditional Round Lettuce.

Lettuce growing alongside Great Drove

As you can see there is a fair bit growing in the field with some still under cover.

Lettuce growing alongside Great Drove

At the top of the road by the Chapel in the Fen a house for sale.  So when I got home I did a look up on the telephone number and here it is an Idyllically Situated 15-room house. Although Geoffrey Woollard and I perhaps don’t agree on the benefits of the Wicken Fen Vision (I do, he doesn’t) there is no doubting his passion for the countryside and this part of the world so I am sure it will be a wrench. And as I discovered his roots are deep – check out the second picture in this Post of mine Bygone days. The bicycle carries the name of his father. So I wish him well – and if you want a nice house on a lovely part of the world with a few acres (16)  this would certainly fit the bill. It is a lovely part of the world.

House for Sale, Chapel Farm River Bank, Near Upware

After a bit of trials riding, no not cycling through Upware – but Docking’s Lane (no dabs) I was cycling along NCN11 into Wicken when two hang gliders went by, I was only quick enough to get one in shot though.

Power Hang glider above the skies of Wicken

The passage through Wicken Fen wasn’t too bad for a Saturday. People get cross if I ting my bell and cross if I don’t but the real issue is that at the moment the shared-use route is vary narrow and the rain has made the edges muddy and the Saturday crowd don’t like to get their shoes dirty.

I stopped for a drink after heaving my bike over the Burwell Lode footbridge – and to take this picture of the clouds reflecting in the water.

Looking North from Burwell Lode Footbridge, Lodes Way

After that my penultimate stop was where Split Drove meets Headlake Drove. I took two pictures then decided to make a sort of montage.

Picture 2 in the sequence: Commissioners’ Drain from Split Drove

As you can see the weather was pretty nice.

Picture 1 in the sequence: Split Drove – a Lodes Way sign

That is Split Drove heading off to the left.

Picture 3 in the sequence: Split Drove looking South-ish

And the final picture looking down Commissioners' Drain and Split Drove towards Reach Lode, back the way I had come.

Picture 4 in the sequence: Commissioners’ Drain and Split Drove

And the final montage, remember that the channel of water is actually a straight line East to West. The discontinuities weren’t as bad as I had thought – so this ended up less of a montage and more of a slightly dodgy panorama – ah well must try harder.

Looking both ways down Commissioners’ Drain at the same time

The last picture of the day – a farmer taking advantage of the low winds to do a bit of spraying, near Quy.

Spraying the crops – near Quy Church (NCN51)

And finally an excellent picture of a tawny owl flying over bluebells and a glowing mountain peak and a horse in a charity cycle race.

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