Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Poet’s Day meander back from Wicken Fen

Friday, 19th April 2013: At least the weather has gotten warmer over the month and even more importantly we are signing more signs or Spring. Despite no longer being a spring chicken I seem to forget how long the gap between Christmas and Spring really is – even in a good year and this year wasn’t a good year. (Another thing to note if you follow the link is how little rain we have had in Cambridge during April, my son reckons the farmers are already concerned about drought.

Hedgerows tend to be first in leaf, and at this time of year the leaves can start appearing very quickly. This is White Fen Drove, and this hedge is looking positively green -  I do like the huge changes we see happen so quickly in the Spring. One minute the trees are just a bunch of sticks randomly poking up into the sky, the next they offer a green canopy to the sun.

The hedgerow along White Fen Drove – turning green

Although this is a route ain an area I have explored many times before I have not actually ridden this exact route before. How can I be so sure, well it includes a Permissive Bridleway that I’ve considered a few times but never tried until now.

Spring is also a time for fly-tipping it seems and there was some of that around. I also cycled along Barston Drove for the first time in a while. I am a bit of a fair-surface cyclist.  I like quite byways and bridleways, I don’t mind ruts and bumps. I don’t like lots of mud or very soft sand. Well not on Maisie my Hybrid anyway.  Mud tends to clog up the wheels – well the sort of black sticky mud you can get in the flatlands.

Here is the link to this route on BikeRouteToaster. It is a shade over 50Km and flat, the elevation varies from 1m to 18m. The hardest “climb” is the bridge over Reach Lode.

The route out pretty much follows Lodes Way from end to end – well on the way out anyway. It is a route that has definitely opened up the countryside to more people.  I reckon that Wicken Fen is a more popular place to visit since the opening of Lodes Way and you see more cyclists, walkers (some with dogs) and even cars making their way to the inner countryside.  Halfway along Headlake Drove just after the turns to Upware and Reach there are more signs of trees coming into leaf.

The signpost highlights the route as part of the National Cycle Network, NCN 51 along with places along the way. In this case Reach is 11/2 miles to the right. Having cycled this way many times I know where I am going, it does confuse car drivers still though.  They come down from Upware and start to think they are nowhere.

Headlake Drove – soon to be a leafy lane, Lodes Way

I reckon this lot had rented bikes and were on a ride from Wicken Fen. They didn’t leave me much room to squeeze though as I was cycling in the opposite direction.  They are one Split Drove, just arriving at Headlake Drove which to the right crosses Commissioners’ Drain.

A Cycle Hire Group from Wicken Fen out for a spin?

Having done more than my fair share of getting lost on a bicycle in this country and abroad, despite having a GPS you’d think I would have more empathy for fellow cyclists out exploring. To me it is obvious which way to go, but only because I know it so well. When you are on a route in the back of beyond (as it must feel) for the first time it is better to be safe than sorry. That is what they do – en masse – seven cyclists and six bicycles (one being a Tandem).

There is nothing quite like exploring pastures new, that sense of exploration, wondering what the countryside will look like, which way will the route go. I really must up my amount of cycling and then plan a two or three day jaunt somewhere.  My Mum lives a couple of hundred miles way, perhaps I will visit her and catch the train home?

Lodes Way Explorers – which way now?

I headed up and went anti-clockwise around Wicken Fen along the Maltings Path and over Monks Lode. The path appears as a footpath, however the Wicken Parish Council Minutes for October 2012 do indicate that there is a plan for a Soham Cycle Path which would include upgrading the Maltings footpath. (Item 3.7 Soham Cycle Path)  I have seen cyclists use this path quite often so I wonder if it is one of those grey paths which ended up being classified as a footpath although it has been used by cyclists (and possible horse riders as well).

I can’t track down much on the subject apart from the Parish Council Minutes – one of which suggests it will cost £45,000 for the feasibility study! One note indicates that it could be via Drury Lane which suggests it might go cross-country (via byways and bridleways) that would be great, although at the Soham end it would need a bit of work.

Monks Lode – Wicken Fen

Another of the signs of Spring and an obligatory subject for photographs – Pussy Willow.  The Bokeh is not bad either. I hadn’t realised that the term derives from the Japanese word – boke.

Pussy Willow and Bokeh

On my way back I cycled into Burwell, then the back way to Reach. Although before I reached Reach I detoured along a Permissive Bridleway around the back of Churchfield Farm. (PPA/0136). It is sufficiently new that it doesn’t appear on either the OS map on Where’s The Path or the OSM map or the OS getamap.

Permissive Bridleway Reach

Here is the other end. The surface was solid, quite cycleable. and a nice change. Given the limited nature of the route I can’t see myself using it that often though.

Permissive Bridleway Reach

As the various bridleways were pretty good I cycled along Barston Drove, which circles round from Reach to Swaffham Prior.  Apart from one or two ruts – another pleasant and quiet (well away from traffic) detour.

Barston Drove, near Reach

I carried on with my indirect route home and after cycling round the back of Swaffham Bulbeck  decided to head through Long Meadow. As I mentioned before reaching the B1102 there was some fly-tipping on White Drove Way. Some lazy sod couldn’t even be bothered to get too far of the beaten track.

Fly-tipping – White Drove Way, Swaffham Bulbeck

This is the path between Long Meadow and Lode, so much quieter than the B1102. I had my iPad with me the other day and monitored the noise on a road. It wasn’t very busy although it reached 94dB as cars whizzed by. Personally I reckon the B1102 is worse.  According to this Website at 94dB the permissible exposure time is one hour.  I wonder if anyone has done much research on traffic noise and cyclists.

Path Long Meadow to Lode

Alongside the path is a field – you can see the effects that the recent flooding is having on crop yields.

Poor Crops yields – Lode

I know I keep saying it – but as the weather gets nicer I just want to get out and do a bit more cycling.


  1. Swaffham Bulbeck CyclistApril 29, 2013 at 5:08 PM

    It's always good to find new routes - I'll have to give that one in Reach a go next time I wander that way. Barston Drove is a favourite of mine and has dried out nicely now. I have also only recently found the route up the hill to Reach Wood too- a whole area completely new to me, accessible also from the track opposite the Dykes End pub.

    Another track I had not ventured along (before Sunday at least) is the one off Hightown Drove (near Burwell) that goes to Hurdle Hall next to Reach Lode. The NT have thoughtfully put in a couple of picnic tables there too so it's a nice quiet corner to stop.

    By the way, you may have already heard it, but last week there was a radio programme all about this neck of the woods, and they paid a visit to Swaffham Bulbeck and Wicken Fen. It's called 'Open Country' (R4) and you can listen again if you missed it here:

  2. Quite a while ago my chain snapped on me when climbing up the track opposite the Dyke's End. I sat on the bench on the edge of Reach Wood and took out the broken chain link to fix it. One of those times I was glad I had my multi-tool with me.

    The byways and bridleways are drying out nicely now, either traffic noise on the roads has become louder or I've just become more intolerant so the byways suit me fine. I have been along the byway along the left side of Reach lode - quite rutted - by dry mud.

    Thanks for the link - I will listen to it when I am stuck at my computer not able to go cycling.

  3. Swaffham Bulbeck CyclistApril 30, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    I have not yet had to fix a broken chain while on a ride- tempting fate there I know. I do have the tool to fix it, but I'm sure I'd still probably mess it up knowing my lack of fettling skills. Still, hard to think of a nicer spot to be stranded.
    I am very pleased the tracks are drying out now. I have to be in Fen Ditton later (important pub trip!) and am planning on the old railway line route past Quy Station to Snout Corner- I hope it's now doable as it was terrible a few weeks back. It looked OK from one of your recent posts.
    I hope you enjoy the radio programme - A bit like buses all the publicity for this area, but apparently, part of this Sunday's 'Countryfile' TV programme will be about Swaffham Bulbeck as well.

    1. I enjoyed the program and learnt something as well. I must remember to set the recorder for Sunday, although there is always iPlayer