Friday, May 4, 2012

Cycling from Cambridge to King’s Lynn–part 5 KL/Ely to Cambridge

Monday, 30th April 2012: When I cycle I tend to be more aware of the weather than usual. I guess I have never really been a weather geek, able to tell what different clouds mean it has never really mattered to me that much. Except when cycling you become more aware of the weather changes. Mind you there is not a lot you can do about it except, perhaps, to be prepared.

I had managed to eat my late lunch and make some phones calls and stay awake. The trains rocking motion is highly soporific and if it had been a two or three hour journey then I would definitely have had a nap. The other thing is that when you have been travelling at cycle speeds even a train seems a very speedy way through the countryside.

The trains are not actually running that fast at the moment. The drought has been drying out the peat and making the tracks uneven resulting in a 40mph speed limit between Downham Market and Littleport. They have cut down some trees and added a bit of ballast and the speed limit has been lifted to 60mph – which is still slower than it could be.

The drought might be problematical, but so it turns out is the flooding for Welney Washes.

It does seem that the rail system is the poor relation of these parts compared with the road system.  Apparently a £10m upgrade of the Ely North junction could increase the frequency of trains from hourly to half hourly.To date no money has been spent on blockading adding ticket barriers to the Ely railway station. Mind you at the moment there is only a small ticket hall though which all passengers must pass. It has one narrow door in and one narrow door out.

The weather on my ride from Cambridge to King’s Lynn made for great cycling weather – although I did notice that skies were getting a little more cloudy as I got closer to King’s Lynn. When I got off the train at Ely, in what seemed like no time at all despite its slowness the skies were really different.  Now this could be because the weather changed in the last 30minutes or Ely has been enjoying very different weather to King’s Lynn.

I have a theory about the perceived hierarchy on the roads. Essentially the bigger the vehicle the more the driver can push and force his way through regardless of the actual right of way. So lorries will barge cars out of the way and cars will barge cyclists out of the way. In fact I would go further and say that to some motor vehicle drivers cyclists are more like annoying insects buzzing around rather than fellow human beings.

Only yesterday as I was cycling to the shop to fetch my daily newspaper as I was cycling along on my side of the road there was  a parked car on the other side of the road.  The car driver following behind me couldn’t possibly be delayed by even a few seconds. So he overtook me and then swerved in front of me so as not to hit the parked car on the other side of the road.

You could say what wonderful precision driving to be able to sneak through a gap with less than a metre to spare on either side at 30mph. Especially when I was probably going at 20mph, until forced to slow and swerve. As it happened there are two ways around an island to the shop which was where we were both heading. I arrived at the shop at the same time. He even opened his door straight in front of me as I walked on the pavement (after parking my bicycle). Flip had someone taken out a contract on me, twice in a few minutes.

No he politely said good morning and probably thought “bloody rude curmudgeonly cyclist” as I scowled back at him.  He was totally and utterly unaware  of what he’d done. That is not a reassuring thought when you are a cyclist. why does driving a car taker away the driver’s humanity?

Even worse some driver’s deliberately show now quarter even when it will not slow them down one iota. This story on the Cambridge News Cycling blog (“Blog 40: Giving way is so easy”) is typical car drivers rarely give way to cyclists – but why can’t we just do a little more giving way?

Why am I telling you all this – well have you ever tried leaving Ely Railway station and turning right – on a bike. You become invisible – except one kind car driver did stop and let me out – thank you to him. Although it seemed to cause some impatience behind him. I then had to turn right of on the off-road section to Barway. Fortunately there is a right turn from traffic approaching Ely which interrupts the traffic flow and makes it easier to cross.

Why does this all matter – well did you know “Traffic accidents are ‘biggest killer of young people worldwide’, report says”.  Here in the UK we probably feel smug – oh yes that is the under-developed countries.  It is still pretty appalling here in the UK.

As I was checking stuff on the web  - this cyclist’s tragic death was reported on May 4th in Norfolk. A Cambridge cyclist was also recently killed in a collision in Bedford. I think that sometimes the safety focus looks at the wrong things. So I am pleased to see that “Car trips are on the decline” – some of it is new technology such as the Internet (and Amazon), whilst some of it is the cost and congestion. Let’s face it cars do not make for nice places to live. Now I am not arguing to ban cars – I like owning a car and it enables me to do things that would be much trickier without one. But let’s not claim that that gives us some sort of right to cover the countryside in concrete and spew out fumes and noise or that the economy would collapse. The economy is doing a nice job of collapsing on its own I think.

These are all reasons why I like to cycle “off-road”, like the first bit of the journey out of Ely on the NCN11 to Cambridge – look at that – it lifts the spirits. Especially after getting a bit dozy on the train.

NCN11 alongside the River Great Ouse, Ely

A quick recap: The first leg of the journey was 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.

Here is the Bike Route Toaster link to the first map and here is the Bike Route Toaster link to the second map.

This bit is shown on the second map, back along from Ely to Cambridge!

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

The final leg of the journey was even flatter and 35Km/22 miles long and this was the leg I was on.

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

As I passed under the railway bridge I noticed some signs mentioning the Ely bypass. The problem is that the strange layout of the railway and road just before the railway station caused problems for traffic because although the is a bridge under the railway it is not very high. So lorries and vans have to diver over a level-crossing. Once the traffic builds up then the lorries can block the approach to the bridge and traffic jams build up.

The other problem is that with the generally dozy class of drivers we have on our roads there have also been quite a few drivers of tall vehicles who have gotten their vehicles stuck under the bridge (here are a few: 1, 2 and 3 . So much so that the bridge has all manner of new brightly colour markings and warning signs.

So what do we do when those poor little car drivers get held up by those nasty lorries, build a £28m overpass that’s what.  That is the equivalent of me thinking shall I walk to the shop just down the road- no, shall I cycle- no, shall I drive my monster articulated lorry- yes. Why is such a picturesque and historic place like Ely being so subservient to the motor vehicle – and frankly why are we wasting so much money.

The notices were put up by Ely Crossing Action which I found quite hard to search for, so hopefully a few links will help them. Ely has around 15,000 inhabitants (according to the 2001 Census). is this really what they want?

The next sign I saw after passing under the bridge was one warming me about the bull I had seen this morning blocking my way. You can tell it is a bull, it has a ring in its nose.

Beware of the Bull on NCN51 under the Railway bridge near Ely

This time around the cows and bull were not blocking the path, they’d found some drier grass. I also got a better picture of the bull this time – including the ring in its nose.

Bull on NCN11 near Ely

The skies also seemed bluer in Ely, by the time I reached Barway and then was cycling down Goose Fen Drove there seemed to be all sorts of clouds from puffy ones to streaky one – you could still see some blue sky though.

White clouds in a blue sky near Goose Fen Drove, Barway

Although this was the furthest I had cycled for a while in one go and it was on a different bike. Well an old/new hybrid it was a comfortable ride – no need to switch to a ‘bent just yet I think. It was helped by the pleasant weather keeping my old bones warm. Although senility must be creeping in, I found that I was taking pictures in the evening of the same fields I had taken pictures of in the morning. The skies were definitely turning to cloud though.

I also read that Sir Bob Geldof will becoming to Lode – well the Lodestar festival to be precise. I am impressed with what local farmer Doug Durrant is achieving. I am sure it must be a lot of hard work

An Oil Seed Rape field near Lode.

Although we have had a lot of rain recently and there were more puddles about along the way than usual – like all good routes the NCN51/Lodes Way/NCN11 were completely cycle-able with no areas that gave me any cause for concern.

I was thinking of cutting through behind Anglesey Abbey over to Quy – Harvey’s Droveway  - the first section – put me off though.

A wet and muddy Harvey’s Droveway, Lode

And when I got home my wife was still “playing” in the garden having had an enjoyable day planting, sorting and tending. Roll on more days like this please.

Before my scrub in the tub – the best way to end a day’s cycling I took some pictures of her Bluebells growing at the bottom of the garden.

Bluebells in the Garden

Well the thought of cycling 200Km still seems ambitious for me in my present state of fitness – but if the weather was like today it would certainly be a lot easier. (See part 1 for details). The Gold route map is now available here.

I should also mention the Reach Fair Cycle Ride on May 7th. A leisurely ride through some beautiful countryside.


  1. Swaffham Bulbeck CyclistMay 8, 2012 at 8:44 PM

    Hi JME - you probably know this but you can avoid that really muddy bit of Harvey's Drove by cycling through the farmyard a little nearer Lode and then doubling back along a track. I have also discovered a handy gap in the hedge you can just about get through so you don't have to lift your bike over the barrier at the gate. the gap takes you through a steepish ditch that you can just about ride without falling off- quite tricky but fun to try!

    While I'm on about Lode, there's currently a nightingale singing in the dense bushes between the new village hall and the allotments. Apparently he's been there a few days. I saw and heard it this afternoon ( my first nightingale) and the song is just amazing.

  2. Hi SBC,

    Now you mention it I do know that route - but for some reason it has never occurred to me to take it. It must be that I like the challenge of cycling along that short section of Harvey's Droveway. The gap sounds to be an interesting challenge though - I must give that a try. Although I am still getting used to the altered balance on my "hybrid".

    I will keep an ear out for the nightingale, although I will first have to check on the 'net to find out what they sound like. Although I grew up in the countryside and went to a small (60 pupils) village school with a focus on wild flowers and wildlife - birds just didn't feature. I suppose Heads in those days had more freedom to teach what they wanted, as long as the 3Rs were drummed into us.

  3. Swaffham Bulbeck CyclistMay 9, 2012 at 6:36 PM

    It's funny as most kids seem to love all things to do with nature/ animals etc, and yet such things seem to be hardly covered by schools these days. Seems a real lost opportunity if we are going to get future generations to pay more than lip service to our ever shrinking natural world. The Forest Schools idea seems brilliant to me.

    Our nightingale is still there today and I made a rather feeble recording. I had never heard one before either, so took a recording of the song on my phone to compare when I got there. It is unmistakable though- the song's sheer range and richness is quite remarkable. This link has a nice nightingale recording made yesterday in Dorset (scroll down to May 8th)

    1. Things have changed, The first exam I remember taking that had external impact was the Eleven plus. As far as I could see the Head did as she saw fit. I'm pretty certain the wild flower identification tests were never part of any National Curriculum. She also introduced me to the Swallows and Amazon's series of books, but it was also more acceptable for eleven year olds to camp out in nearby fields.

      Thank you for the link, I will know what to listen out for now. Now all I need to do is find a bit of time to pop over.