Friday, May 4, 2012

Cycling from Cambridge to King’s Lynn–part 1 Wicken Fen

Monday, 30th April 2012: My willpower just couldn’t take it, after so many days of rain and drizzle and generally grotty weather it was SUNNY. Here is the Cambridge DTG weather for that day. The temperature reached almost 20C, almost, and it was sunny most of the day. My wife wasn’t working that day and had decided to spend the day catching up with planting stuff in the garden – she was gleefully browsing packets of seeds at breakfast!

So there was only one thing I could do really, have a sneaky day of and go cycling. The trouble is I have to be careful that my enthusiasm doesn’t get the better of my physical ability. After a day’s cycling you can get very weary indeed on the last few miles home.  I have toyed with the idea of cycling on the Cambridge News Big Ride on the 8th of July. There are two routes, A Silver one for those looking for a leisurely Sunday morning ride of 20.12Km (12.5 miles) and a Gold one of 201.2Km and I quote:

This longer ride is aimed at the more accomplished independent cyclist who can cycle long distances, have a good bike and are of good health. This is a challenging event for which you will need to undergo some training and preparation. It is an event for sportsmen and women rather than casual cyclists.

Now I don’t consider my self a sportsman (or woman for that matter) but I do know that I am quite capable of cycling 200Km on my bicycle although not at high speed. So I am tempted, but I also know that without some preparation such a ride can be a chore rather than a pleasure. So if I were cycling with other touring type relaxed cyclists at a moderate pace it sounds delightful, on the other hand if I found myself in a group hammering around at 20+mph (32Km/hour) then thanks but no thanks.

So the obvious thing to do on such a pleasant day would be to cycle a distance of around 100Km/62.5 miles to gauge my “fitness” and I really mean by ability to sit pedalling for hours without getting too many aches and pains – wrists/hands, back and bottom being the main areas of concern.

So having an idea of the distance I wanted to cycle – where would that take me? (Also, just as important in what direction was the wind?). When I checked it was blowing from the South-East. So the obvious choice for me was to cycle up to King’s Lynn and then catch the train back. The advantage being the cycle route follows the rail routes so I could customise my route by deciding to catch the train along the way depending upon how I felt.

If the wind had been blowing the other way then I would have caught the train to King’s Lynn and cycled back – simples. To cut a long story short I cycled up to King’s Lynn and then caught the train to Ely and cycled back from Ely. Unfortunately the wind moved direction and wasn’t as helpful as I was hoping for the journey up. In fact my original plan was to catch the train back to Cambridge but en-route I then thought why not Waterbeach and then once I got to King’s Lynn my destination became Ely. (It was also cheaper at £6.30 for a single from King’s Lynn to Ely.)

Although I am going to repeat myself after the recent run of drizzly grey days of what seems to be non-stop April showers Monday was just glorious, the weather had done a complete about turn. My plan was to wait until I got past Ely before taking too many pictures – partly because I already have taken a lot of pictures on the Lodes Way and partly because they slow my cycling progress and it doesn’t need slowing down any more.

Once I was out of Cambridge and on the Lodes Way I just had to take a picture – the weather was really so different.  As I was cycling out of Lode I stopped to take a picture of some Marsh Marigolds growing in the Bottisham Lode alongside the road (Fen Road). So just to establish the location here is a picture of the road – this is what I enjoy about cycling – the ability to get into the countryside and away from the traffic.

Part of the Lodes Way – Fen Road heading out of Lode alongside Bottisham Lode

The ride is really in two parts which, the first part being the ride to King’s Lynn and the second part being the ride back from Ely. There is not much to report about the train journey from King’s Lynn to Ely. I like this ride because you can tailor the amount of cycling by choosing different stations along the way to catch the train between. It means you can cover more ground on you bicycle. I have caught the train to King’s Lynn and then cycled over to Sheringham and caught the train back (via Norwich) although not in the lifetime of this Blog. Here is the Bike Route Toaster link to the first map and here is the Bike Route Toaster link to the second map.

The first leg of the journey is just under 96Km/60 miles and pretty flat, in fact to anybody but a flatlander like me it is very flat with the height varying between –1m and 34m above sea level I pretty much followed the Sustrans routing – although I need to check the bit around King’s Lynn power station when I get to that stage in the post. The route I took goes around the back and alongside the river – but on the OSM Cycle map it shows a different route.

Map of my route from King’s Lynn to Ely on NCN51/Lodes Way/NCN11

The second leg of the journey was even flatter and 35Km/22 miles long.

Map of my route from King’s Lynn to Ely on NCN51/Lodes Way/NCN11

And before I forget the reason I stopped – Marsh Marigolds  (Caltha palustris) growing in the lode. At least that is what I think it is.. The Wikipedia article suggests it is rare on peat – and this area is quite peaty. Although under the peat there is clay around here and in some parts the peat is not as thick as you might expect.

Marsh Marigold in Bottisham Lode

East Anglia (the Flatlands) is known for its wide open skies and on this route you really start to appreciate them when cycling out of Lode. The skies and fields seem to go on for miles. I’d barely cycled up the road before I stopped to take this picture. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but like Policemen the Oil Seed Rape is getting shorter. The shorter plants are less likely to be blown over by wind or damaged by heavy rain apparently and the biomass is easier to manager (the bit left over after the seed is harvested).

Oil Seed Rape alongside Fen Road, Lode

It is no secret that despite the drought we have been having a fair bit of rain in the UK during April. The Flatlands are no exception. The water in the various ditches, Lodes and Rivers is managed by moving it around, but as you can see here Bottisham Lode is pretty full at the moment. (Mind you we have not had it as bad as Tewkesbury.) Apparently we need to pay more for our water to teach us to conserve it – according to the Lords. Perhaps we should have thought about conserving our Water Utility companies before selling them off and perhaps they ought to conserve their profits and build some better infrastructure.

Bottisham Lode is looking fairly full

After that picture-fest I made it down White Fen Road and just past the Swaffham Bulbeck Lode bridge before I took another picture.  The “farmers” have been harvesting the turf – although you can see the field was pretty sodden which would presumably make the turn much heavier to cart around. The skies were marvellously blue though.

Turf being “harvested” near the Swaffham Bulbeck lode bridge on Lodes Way

This field lies at the corner of Whiteway Drove and Headlake Drove – spuds I think. The person who did this made a very neat job of it.

Freshly Drilled Field – Whiteway Drove (near Swaffham Prior)

Another turf field, a few fields along, this time I’d actually made it to Headlake Drove and gotten past Lord’s Ground Drove, but not reached Little Fen Drove. The turf here is even more sodden than in the previous field. The rain we’ve had in April has certainly helped the my lawn at home to grow, but I I guess this is too much of a good thing.

Sodden Turf along the Lodes Way (Headlake Drove)

No this isn’t a new ford along Lodes Way, but it does show that getting water to drain around these parts isn’t that easy. I cycled through it and then back as I wanted to get the blue Lodes Way sign in the picture. Which is why you can see a bicycle track, it is mine.

The bridge in the picture crosses Commissioners’ Drain, as it appears on the OS Map, although the OSM map shows it without the ‘ – I think, it might possible be r’s, I couldn’t get the font large enough to tell.

Flooding across the road – Lodes Way (Headlake Drove)

And this is what Commissioners’ Drain look like heading across towards Reach Lode. I think it was the sight of those blue skies that made me take pictures. It had not been around for some time.

Commissioners’ Drain

In the last picture you can just about see this massive locust as it strips the onions from the ground. I was something like half a mile away from it but the pungent smell of onions was strong in the air. It must really be strong for those doing the work. A couple of years ago my son worked on something similar picking potatoes – the conveyor continually moves and you have to pick stones and misshaped potatoes of it. He said that at the end of the day your eyes couldn’t get used to the lack of movement and kept flicking to one side.

Onions being harvested along the Lodes Way near Reach Lode

After crossing Reach Lode and not taking any pictures I spied a couple of deer, although they spied me first. I managed to take a picture before they ran off though.

Two Deer on the alert along Lodes Way

They didn’t hang around for long though almost as soon as I had taken the picture they were off. I think they over-estimate my cycling abilities if they thought I could catch them on my bicycle.

Two Deer scampering off - along Lodes Way

I did take a picture from the footbridge over Burwell Lode – look at that green fens, blue, wide-open skies and some white puffy clouds – if only all cycling days could be like this.

The view from the Burwell Lode Footbridge (Lodes Way)

The other thing I forgot to mention is that the rain hasn’t just done the grass good, the leaves on the trees are popping out all over. It always surprises me just how long it takes for the leaves to appear on all species of tree. Horse Chestnuts are early, but Beech trees are late. Pretty much everything was looking green by now though.

Maisie on the Burwell Lode Footbridge (Lodes Way)

As I cycle through Wicken Fen the paths there were also quite flooded. If you are going walking I’d take some welly-gogs, which is what I call Wellington boots but is also similar to a brand name. It was a couple of inches deep and the trick is to go through steadily and not to make any sudden changes of direction – the mud under the water can be like ice.

Flooded shared-use path in Wicken Fen (NCN11)

As I cycle through Wicken Fen people must have though I was mad, I had a big grin on my face – I was congratulating myself on a wonderful choice of ride on a wonderful day.



  1. Hands/wrists, back and backside aching on long rides? Well you already know the answer to those problems...



    1. Hi Mike, but what would it be like on Harrison's Drove? Although less far to fall.


  2. I don't bother with Harrison's Drive even on an Mountain-Bike -- I had enough of getting covered with mud when I was forced to play rugby at school!

    However my maximum for a day on an MTB using MTB-ish tracks is 75km, and that was quite a hard day. Trying to do over 100km really means sticking to fairly hard surfaces, without too much gravel or other loose stuff. And the 'bent is fine on that sort of thing.

    And, as you say, if you do fall it's not as far....


    1. The trouble is I tend to combine different types of cycling in one ride. So a bit of road, a bit of reasonable track and a bit of unreasonable track. The diamond frame may have its problems - it is versatile though.

      Would the 'bent be ok on the NCN11 up to Ely? Whilst I am asking have you tried it on the cycleway alongside the CGB (not while it is flooded though). That really ought to have been designed to be 'bent friendly - I suspect it might not be though.

  3. NCN11 to Ely is fine on the Ross 'bent. I've done it quite a few times. The only snag is the tight turn after passing under the railway, back onto the top of the bank again. But that's a problem for a lot of bikes I've watched trying to negotiate it. Going south is an easy turn and no problem at all.

    I've not tried the 'bent on the new tarmac surfaced MGB track, mainly 'cos I've had no need to go that way recently. And looking at your and other reports of flooding, I don't think I'm going to soon....

    1. The route under the railway bridge is just not cycle friendly. Having to cycle over the cattle grid fast enough to maintain momentum and slow enough to be able to time the turn onto the bank at the right time takes a little care.

      Actually the 'bent would be fast and might even go under the horse barriers!