Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Tale of Two Harrisons? (Droves on Lodes Way)

Thursday, 25th April 2013: One of the problems I have with cycling is that after a bit of a lull in my cycling when I resume pushing those pedals my brain thinks – hey lets go faster and my legs reply no! I don’t race on my bike, that sounds too much like hard work, however I do like to be fit enough to get around on my bike comfortably. Which translate4s into a half decent level of fitness.  The sort where a round trip of 100 miles (160Km) is a pleasant adventure rather than a hard slog.

So having been a bit lazy over the winter months (I blame the weather myself) I find myself wanting to get out at every opportunity just to get a bit of stamina back. Fortunately I haven’t been so lazy that I am having saddle issues.

A good trick to avoid getting too despondent about my lack of speed is to cycle along byways and bridleways. That way I am exercising, but I also have to focus on bike control. The other bonus is that many of the byways and bridleways feel really secluded. Cambridgeshire doesn’t have any areas where you really feel the peace and solitude of the countryside. There are too many roads, pylons or villages lying around.

As the weather has been pretty dry for a while the byways and bridleways of Cambridgeshire are pretty good – not gloopy, but you have to work at your balance amidst the ruts. So my plan was to cycle from Reach to Upware on Straight Drove and Harrison’s Drove and then back via Harrison’s Drove and Burwell. Note there are two Harrison’s Droves in the Wicken area– they run parallel but don’t connect.

So if you want a bit of seclusion you have to get there first. I headed in and out on NCN51, but my Bike Route Toaster map really only shows the loop bit, or rather figure-of-eight bit. I did cycle though, I didn't stick the bike in the car that would have been cheating. Although I would resort to using my car if I took my MTB to Thetford. (Hum that’s an idea, take a snack for in-flight refuelling – it gets pretty busy though.)

So despite the map showing a three loops from Swaffham Bulbeck I did take a picture heading into Swaffham Bulbeck – the trees on the left hand side of the road looked wonderful – Spring is definitely upon us.

The path between Bottisham and Swaffham Bulbeck is one of the magic paths, that despite being half the width of a sixpence is a shared-use path.  Although I note that the Swaffham Bulbeck Vision (page 322!) calls for an improved footpath/cycle path to Bottisham. Every now and then I check to see if this really is a shared-use path. It is quite a struggle finding this sort of info on the web, well I find it a struggle anyway. Whilst not legally binding the Cambridgeshire County Council do publish maps for cyclists. Here is the Stow cum Quy and Bottisham map which shows  the pavement as shared-use into Bottisham up to Howlett Way, although there is a cycle painted on the pavement up by the pub near the end of Bell Road. Then on the Swaffham Bulbeck side of the village the shared-use path resumes at Tunbridge Lane!

Spring Leaves on the way into Swaffham Bulbeck

Enough moaning about uncertainty that shared-use paths bring and the lack of maintenance. Next time I must try and take pictures of the signage en-route. Here is the map – with yellow highlighting of the byway/bridleway bits.  The loopy bits are 25Km.

A cycle Ride on the Two Harrison’s Drove of Wicken

This is what I meant about solitude – to the right you can see the Reach lode bridge on the Lodes Way – but very little else, apart from the fence. You do have to plan your rut though (or should that be route along the ruts). The trouble is hopping from one rut to another can require a bit of skill and on my bike the crank arms are quite long and if I cycle along a deep rut can bang on the side.

The other challenge I have is that if I overthink cycling along a rut then I run the risk of my front wheel being “interfered” with. The best thing to do is cycle at a moderate pace, with a relaxed grip on the handlebars and to look up the track.

Straight Drove

This part of the world relies upon drainage with ditches for the water to drain into off the fields and then Lodes which take the water of to the coast.  I have a feeling that there is more water than usual in the ditches and drains this year. But it might be that I just notice it more.

Field Drainage of Straight Drove

One of the bigger Drains is Commissioners’ Drain, it passes under Straight Drove and then heads up towards the Upware pumping Station.

Commissioners' Drain

Here is the Drain heading towards Upware – you can just about see the bridge which carries Straight Drove over the drain.  You can also see how the “banks” of the drain are very tidy.

Commissioners' Drain

A little further along Straight Drove (where it runs alongside the drain) and the track shows the remnants of a tarmac road, with another beaten up tarmac road to the left. Then the track turns slightly and becomes Harrison’s Drove and there are some buildings where you sometimes see piles of carrots. (Thirteen pictures down on this link.)

On the other side a field was being sprayed. This spray had a slightly fishy smell, due to the chemicals not because they use chopped fish I am told. Although it was breezy the spray boom was set low to ensure that the chemicals got to the crops.

Spraying alongside Harrison’s Drove

After a short section on the road to Upware I cycled down on the left side of Reach Lode along a relatively new bridleway.  I hadn’t realised that there were objections from Ramblers because of Horse dung. Dogs with owners that don’t pick up after them are far worse in my opinion and quite a few other people. (It is more biodegradable, not as smelly or infectious.) Thankfully the objections were overruled, back in 2007 according to the link.  I did talk to a couple of horse riders at the time and gave them my email address, but they must have forgotten it as I didn’t get an email so that I could offer my support for the “enbridlewayment”.

I have been this way already this year and I think I mentioned NT boat trips along Wicken Lode – here is one. You can also see how the bank has been maintained and hopefully new grass will grow.

NT Boat trip along Wicken Lode

The view across Wicken Lode was beautiful. You can see there was a bit of wind rippling the water surface.

Wicken Fen and Wicken Lode

I didn’t manage to cycle along Harrison’s Drove #2 without dabbing, in fact I had a bit of an unplanned dismount, but ended up on my feet. The track surface is tricky in places. A bit further down I stopped to check out the view from a Bird Hide – here it is.

View from one of the many Wicken Fen Bird Hides

After passing through Burwell and heading back towards reach I cycled along Black Droveway – no dabs were necessary this time – although it is quite rutted there is a bit more width. It still requires a bit of concentration though (well from me anyway).

In the distance was another farmer out spraying.

Field Spraying – near Black Droveway

Talking about horses earlier I saw a headline suggesting that Horse riders wearing hi-viz could be arrested for impersonating police. Apparently there have been four deaths (of horse-riders) and 100 casualties on the roads in a year. Drivers have complained to the Police!! Well in this topsy-turvey world we live in you might think that the Police would also be interested in why Horse Riders felt they weren’t safe on the roads. However cyclists don’t have to look far to see how it would seem that Cyclist safety doesn’t seem to be that high on the agenda of Prosecutors.

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