Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Longer Lodes Way? + Soham

Monday, 14th April 2014:  Enjoy cycling the Lodes Way, but looking for a slightly longer loop? Happy cycling on byways/bridleways – but nothing too extreme. well try this ride out for size. It makes a fine Sunday spin.

One of the great things about cycling is that you can go where cars and lorries don’t go. Which opens routes and views that most people don’t get to see – even in a populated place like Cambridgeshire.

One of the bad things about modern life is how difficult it is to get away from the thrum of traffic and how many roads are so noisy now. In Cambridge you will see that the Council employs Lollipop men and women and light-controlled pedestrian crossings at the start and end of the school day because of the concern many parents have about the dangers of traffic.

This route uses a combination of the NCN51 Sustrans route, byways and bridleways to cycle from Lode through to Soham and then to Wicken before returning on the Lodes Way to Lode. It is almost 40Km/25 miles and more or less flat. Although cycling around Swaffham Bulbeck on Quarry Lane is actually a small hill. 

I have shown this as a loop from Lode, but you could park at Anglesey Abbey (I am not sure what the deal is with parking there though – their blurb indicates it is free – but is that only for those visiting the House and Grounds).

Here is a link to the map on Bike Route Toaster as a cyclist I tend not to micro-plan my rides. I know how far I can cycle in an afternoon or a day, so I don’t take notice of the speed calculator.  When setting off for long rides in areas I don’t know then I do occasionally download routes onto my GPS and follow them when cycling.

So if you set off from Lode as you head out of the village you have to cross the B1102. It used to be that B roads were pretty quite, that is no longer the case and the B1102 is a fast and unpleasant road (IMHO) especially during the morning and evening rush hours. It is a victim of the Cambridge effect – lots of people work in Cambridge but commute from the necklace villages.

The good news is that a few years back (Nov 2010) a new foot and cycleway was opened between Lode and Bottisham along with a toucan crossing. The B1102 needed it – how kids safely crossed there when heading to the school in Bottisham from Lode I don’t know.

The trouble is roads like the B1102 get busier and busier until they become barriers to vulnerable road users. Then after a considerable amount of time during which a route is effectively blocked to vulnerable road users the powers that be might actually put in place a crossing. In this case the money came from a lottery – which seems to be a ridiculous way to build a road network.

It seems the the underlying assumption is to get motor traffic around the place as fast as possible and to impede it as little as possible – compromising all other aspects (noise, convenience, pollution, permeability for non-motorists…) 

As part of the deal there is also a shared-use path into Bottisham. The shared-use path is needed because there is a school along the road and the school rush hour traffic makes it particular unsafe for schoolchildren wishing to cycle to school – so a compromise shared-use path gets built.

When you reach Bottisham the plan is to follow the NCN51 blue signs towards Swaffham Bulbeck. The road between Bottisham and Swaffham Bulbeck also has a shared-use path – but one so narrow that the OSM Cycle map doesn’t show it as such. 

I tend to follow the NCN51 route around the “back” of Swaffham Bulbeck – this means a slight climb, but avoids the needs to cycle along the B1102 as it passes through Swaffham Bulbeck. The downside is that you have to cross the B1102 to get to the shared-use path on Green Bank Road.

For reasons that I don’t understand the inhabitants of Swaffham Bulbeck don’t get help when wanting to cross the B1102 – perhaps because they have the “protection” of a 30mph speed limit. Not that that helps much during the rush hour.

fortunately for cyclists, walkers and the inhabitants of Swaffham Prior at some stage they got what looks like a by-pass and so NCN51 heads into the village and away from the traffic. Just on the outskirts of the village when the weather is good I leave the road and cycle along Barston Drove, a byway.

Actually I cheat a little and cycle down a footpath to Barston Drove. That avoids having to cycle over the old railway bridge (Reach Bridge) which combines a blind corner and a blind brow (of the bridge). I think that the footpath was the original route of Barston Drove but it got rerouted when they built the railway line.

Barston Drove can get quite rutted so you have to pick your routes – but it is fun and you get to see Swaffham Prior from a different angle.  I have followed a land Rover around most of Barston Drove, but the driver must have lost his never and turned around. He would have made it.

Barston Drove skirts Church Hill – my guess is it is so named because you can see the two churches of Swaffham Prior. They are unusual because they stand in the same churchyard.

Church Hill seen from Barston Drove

The map of my ride

Barston Drove - a byway from Swaffham Prior to Reach (the long way)

I re-joined NCN51 in Reach and cycled through Burwell on what is shown as NCN 11-51 Link, but there are lots of them.  Although for a change I cycled along a short byway in Burwell – Weirs Drove. It avoids cycling past a couple of shops – which can be a bit of a car magnet – where drivers are more intent on parking that watching out for cyclists.

The route re-joins the NCN11 –51 link briefly before passing through the industrial zone of Burwell along Broads Road.  Amongst other things there is a Police Car Pound, Sewage Treatment Works and a place where you can get an engine re-bore.  Mind you I can’t find a web link to the Pound – I will have to take a picture of the sign next time I cycle through.

The industrial side of Burwell gives way to the equine and then you reach the end of the road at Broads Farm – but being on a bicycle you can just carry on.

This byway is tricky – it can get very rutted and I have had the occasional unplanned dismount when trying to keep my balance on this track. You can always walk it – it isn’t long and then you turn right down towards Ness Road and pass between two farms – Tollgate Farm and Ness Farm. As the stone indicates the Toll Gate was removed in 1905 – this link shows the last vehicle (probably) to pass through. (A Burwell map c 1800)

Burwell Ness Toll Gate Stone

At this point you have to cycle briefly on the B1102 – fast and furious – but quite wide. Then the route turns off down Cockpen Road and  Larkhall Road and a byway to Soham.  Here you have to cross the A1123 – which is busy but not as bad as the B1102 in Swaffham Bulbeck I reckon.

Watch out for bike thief's in Soham though! Having said that I have never had any problems with cycling in Soham – so don’t let it put you off.  The worst things about Soham are the roadworks at the moment and the weird cycle route (shared paths, road crossings, traffic islands – almost as bad as Cherry Hinton)..

The town can be tricky to navigate though and like many places the back streets are a bit congested with car storage. The nice thing is that there is a bridleway/byway route between Soham And Wicken.  The first bit can be a bit sticky in the winter months when it is wet – but it is so much nicer than cycling on the A1102.

You start on a byway called Bracks Drove, then it becomes a bridleway and then a byway – Drove Lane. I have no idea why – it switches. The middle bit does form long cracks in the dry summer months.

Pylons seen from Bracks Drove – Soham

It isn’t unusual to see the occasional walker, cyclist or horse rider on the tracks, which have been drastically cleared just recently. This time I came upon a group of men sitting across the path with their dogs and cans of lager, swigging away. They were friendly enough and gathered their dogs up to allow me through their al-fresco drinking party.

Pylons seen from Bracks Drove – Soham

In Wicken you then pick up the Lodes Way – most of the route is really quiet on a Sunday – except for cycling past the car park area of Wicken Fen and past the entrance. There are some people who having driven their smelly, noisy, polluting, infernal combustion engine-d vehicles seem to then switch to cyclist-hating pedestrians who resent the gentle ting of my bell as I try to get through.

There are also more walkers who thank me for the gentle ting as I pass by.  Pretty soon you pass the throngs and are heading across the Fens.

I was amused by this Sustrans Case Study of the Impact of the Lodes Way creation. Organisations quickly seem to become bureaucratic and then focus on the greenwash education of other as to how beneficial they are.  Don’t get me wrong I think that the Lodes Way is a wonderful, if slightly incomplete cycle route, but look at the odd propaganda that accompanies it.

There are some interesting factoids – but little context. The estimated number of trips made on the route in 2012 was 21,968 – er spurious accuracy there I would have thought. (That is 60 people per day.)

The picture they show on the first page is actually not the Lodes Way but alongside the River Great Ouse near Ely. You can see Ely Cathedral in the picture. The picture on the second page features the Burwell Lode footbridge.  This deserves to be called the crappiest part of the route, partly because of inconsiderate dog-walkers and partly because you have to drag your bike up a steep set of steps and then down on the other side.

So why on earth are cyclists pictured apparently cycling along the footbridge – never in a month of Sundays would you cycle the very short distance of this narrow footbridge. What is also interesting is that whilst most cyclists are shown wearing helmets not all are – including a young girl – political correctness hasn’t completely taken over.

After the bridge there are some cattle grids but the views across Burwell Fen are wonderful.

Oh and one final point most of the cyclists I see on the Lodes Way aren’t togged up racing cyclists – they are just people out enjoying a bit of fresh air.

Burwell Fen – Lodes Way

You also see a bit of agriculture in action as well.  Despite the fens needing lots of drainage, or maybe because they get lots of drainage whenever there is a short dry spell the fields get irrigated.

Irrigation along Lodes Way

Irrigation along Lodes Way

As I passed through White Fen there looked to be a convention of tractor drivers – there were 6 or 7. The equipment being used in this picture is a NetAgCo Reekie 5154 de-stoner.   This was a potato planting extravaganza.

De-stoning a field for Spuds – White Fen, Lodes Way

A Reekie 5154 De-Stoner ready to roll

all these tractors were there to prepare the soil for spuds as quickly as possible (I assume) hence they came along mob-handed. This chap has been doing one of the earlier soil preparation steps – bed-making perhaps.

Agriculture in Action – White Fen, Lodes Way

I wonder if they will ever open up an “official” cycle route between Wicken and Soham?

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