Monday, August 20, 2012

A ride to Soham on the Lodes Way and back via Crowhall Farm

Monday, 9th August 2012: Although it doesn’t seem like we have had a proper Summer this year – it hasn’t been all doom and gloom. In fact the rain has been much worse for some places than others. Here in Cambridge some areas of Girton suffered and are still suffering. I know I keep banging on about it – but some parts of the UK are pretty densely populated and there is pressure to build even more houses.

This will mean more “countryside” concreted over, more energy demand and more water demand,requiring more reservoir capacity not to mention schools, surgeries, shops and leisure facilities (from playgrounds to countryside walks).  None of these are insurmountable problems, but it does mean that extra costs are incurred. Should these costs fall on the area as a whole or just on the new developments? I don’t know, but they should be dealt with up front.

Some would argue our world is changing because through natural cycles, other because of what mankind is doing. Personally I feel that we are responsible. However there is certainly evidence of change – “Scientists warn that Glacier National park is meting even faster than before… and icecaps will be GONE by 2020”.Even the Cambridge News is warning that the flatlands will have a very different climate by 2060 – “Our future climate? Just think of Southern Spain”.

I guess part of the problem is that “Mother Nature” has always seemed to beyond the control of humankind – with an awesome power (as seen in these National Geographic pictures). So it is easy to believe that we are not responsible now and just carry.  The trouble is most economic systems seem to be based up some sort of growth premise to generate more wealth. The trouble is such systems also require more energy and food and space. Which is why Wind turbines are finding themselves set around the countryside – Second wind farm threat to the moors of Wuthering Heights.

I have not spent any time considering the pros and cons of wind power. However there is no doubt that we need energy. All such energy has a cost – what price are we prepared to pay. There is much said about localisation of the power to decide – does that mean such localities who choose against wind power will also then pay more for their power or get less power?

One of the localisation issues is, I believe, the need to ensure and maintain local and accessible wild-countryside – which is why the Wicken Fen Vision seems to be a compelling vision to me. Such a vision must consider sustainable accessibility with paths for walkers, horse riders and cyclists.

Speaking of which I cycled over to Soham using both old byways and bridleways and new ones as well. Well new to me. To spare regular readers I won’t dwell on the Lodes Way bit of the ride The route is a loop to Soham from White Fen onwards. One of the things on my wish list for the Lodes Way is to see a network of routes made accessible rather than just the there and back of the Lodes Way. I am certainly not looking for it all to be surfaced with tarmac, but I feel more could be made of the network of country roads, and byways and bridleways.

Here is the Bike Route Toaster link to the route I took. One of the difficulties at the moment is that parts of it are weather dependant.  It is 63.5Km or a shade under 40miles although it didn’t seem to be as long as it was. I did cycle around Crowhall Farm Wood permissive bridleway – created quite a few years ago, but not long in terms of some ancient routes. The information board – shown below is dated 1996. Here is a map in pdf form – you better not hang around as access ends in September 2014. (I have been on the loop to the East of Ness Road, this time around I also cycled on the bit from Ness Road to Broads Road.)

So after cycling along the Lodes Way to Wicken Fen you can, with a little bit of care cycle off-road from Wicken to Soham along a combination of byways and bridleways from Drury Lane (in Wicken) to Mill Drove. At this time of year the grass tends to be quite long and the recent rain has also made the path somewhat muddy in places. It seems to be a reasonably well used local route. There is no doubt that it is much nicer than trying to cycle or walk along the road between the two villages.

Here is part of the path – unless you know it cycling along an overgrown path can be a little risky. This bit of the path heads North-West roughly along the Parish Boundary.

Bridleway connecting Drove Lane and Bracks Drove (Wicken and Soham)

And here is the route. Although I didn’t take nay pictures on my way through Wicken there are two things that caught my attention. There was a dead deer along the NCN51 near Bottisham. Also as I was cycling through Wicken Fen just before reaching Normans Bridge I noticed a camera, all alone on a bench. It was an SLR with a pretty long lens – a little bit further along were a couple (older than me) with binoculars clearly out spotting the wildlife. I mentioned the camera – in their enthusiasm they had forgotten it. So that was my good deed for the day – not much of as record though – one good deed every now and then!

A Lodes Way Loop – Wicken, Soham and Burwell – off-road-ish

The two ends of the path between Wicken and Soham run between hedges and are fairly narrow.  I stopped to take a picture of this wild teasel (Dipsacus fullonum). (AKA teazel and teazle). I rather like the name “fullonum” – as it that tackle was a bit fullonum!

Although it wasn’t that windy it was a multi-exposure picture and so I waited until it was still (for the three exposures). Once I was happy I realised that my left leg felt a bit tickly. The spot I had stopped on was an ant’s nest – the invasion has started!

A teasel on Brack’s Drove, Soham

This path is normally less muddy than this – I dabbed my feet down a fair number of times and walked bits of it. There were times when the sliding around got a bit uncomfortable as well.  I don’t mind sliding around – except when I am wearing shorts and there are stingles (stinging nettles) to slide into.

Brack’s Drove, Soham – More puddles than usual

As you get closer to Soham the track seems to get wider, but just as wet and muddy. There have been some house bricks put down to provide a raised route – although they seem to have sunk.

Once on Mill Drove the next hazard is a railway line running at an angle across the road. Watch you wheels as you cycle across it – or perhaps don’t watch you wheels –but try to cross the tracks at more of a right-angle.

Just after I passed the crossing the lights and sirens sounds, the barriers closed and a long freight train went through.

Freight Train crossing Mill Drove, Soham

It was a pretty long train – and I reckon about two-thirds loaded. It is certainly a shame that some much freight is now carried on the roads. I guess that the economics drive the situation.

Freight Train crossing Mill Drove, Soham

After Soham I popped down Orchard Row onto an unnamed byway to Larkhall Road. There were more railway lines around in the old days, one connected to the brickworks between Wicken Fen and Burwell. The other headed off to Mildenhall. If you look closely there was an Orchard on Orchard Road, once upon a time.

Before cycling down Larkhall Road I cycled the other way along Block Road – I wanted to see what the footpath was like that connected with Broads Lane (where it is a byway) As I cycled along enjoying the solitude a “White Van Man” shot by. It was a bit odd as the road was a dead end. Then the van shot into a field just up ahead and I wrongly assumed it might be Traveller’s parked up.

The answer was obvious – there was a broken down Combine Harvester in need of urgent repair to get  the crops in before more rain.

The footpath didn’t look that bicycle friendly either so I headed the other way and down Cockpen Road into Station Road. Since my exploring had been thwarted I thought I would cycle around the Crowhall Farm route – shown here. It was quite soft going the grass was springy, but it was cycle-able and I was getting exercise. This is a rather scenic route.

Crowhall Farm Permissive bridleway – the Ness Farm end

You start off alongside New River reaching a bit of shady woodland before heading through the wood. The bit through this woodland was the slipperiest part of the route.

Crowhall Farm Permissive bridleway – woodland by New River

There is a small triangle of trees nearby with some maize growing as a cover crop.

Crowhall Farm Permissive bridleway – maize cover crop

The information board indicates that it is a Community Woodland planted on land owned by Cambridgeshire County Council’s County Farm Estate. The estate consists of over 43,000 acres of land with over 500 tenant farmers.

Crowhall Farm Wood – information Board

At times as you move along the bridleway it feels like you are in a sea of wheat.

Crowhall Farm Permissive bridleway – a sea of wheat

Look at that for a mono-culture – not a weed in sight – well not to my untrained eye anyway. The weather was rather nice though.

Crowhall Farm Permissive bridleway – even more wheat

You then pass through along a wiggly path through a wood next to Crowhall Farm and then cross the road where the permissive bridleway makes its way to Brooks Road. for some reason I had never bothered to cycle along the second bit – I had assumed it was just a straight track over the hill.  It to wiggles through a wood and too my untrained legs it feels like a hill as well. Although it doesn’t climb more than 5-10m. I am just too used to the Flatlands. This is the link to the WTP satellite view of the wiggly route through the wood

If you look closely you might just be able to make out the blue-topped tower – which is in Soham.

A distant view of Soham

As I was cycling through the wood a deer was startled and ran along the wiggly path out into a nearby field and then of into the distance. It took me a while to respond and take my camera out – the deer is just this side of the haystack.

Deer running through a field (Crowhall Farm)

The straw was being turned – presumably to get it to the optimum level of dryness – this confused the deer.

Turning the straw

And that was almost it as far as the pictures go. Although as I passed through White Fen on my way back it did look rather splendid under the blue sky with a few puffy white clouds.

I do seem to be getting a few more rides in at the moment.


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