Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Roaming the Roman Road to Balsham

Sunday, 13th April 2014: There is a strong correlation between decent weather and me cycling a little further afield. As I sat down to write this post, thinking now where did I go, the pictures I took all spoke of lovely weather and not the Lodes Way.

I cycled on Worsted Street form Cambridge to Balsham. Well more or less. The roman road byway (restricted) starts somewhere between Cambridge and Fulbourn on a hill.  Then it heads straight, as roman roads are wont to do, past Balsham. Fortunately there is a byway and green dot road into Balsham and then after a trip through the middle of Balsham there is another byway to a Pumping Station and then a country lane to Westley Bottom Road. This leads to a DIY level crossing and then more byway. You can go almost straight to Bottisham (Heath Road) and catch the NCN51, I tend to divert though Wilbraham  - habit I guess.

At this time of year it is quite a delightful ride. You see Spring, well springing, around here there are lots of yellow fields and usually the byways are hard-packed mud and so easy to cycle along. Also there are a few hills as well – so your legs get a work-out. Although when I say hills these are only flatland hills and not that steep.

The ride was 46Km long/ 29 miles and according to Bike Route Toaster reaches 110m – I managed it without taking oxygen tanks – just. Quite a lot of the route that isn’t byway is shared-use or country lane. The worst bits are crossing the Newmarket Road by the airfield, navigating Fulbourn, climbing the Shelford Road (cars can speed along, but most give room), Balsham High Street and crossing the A1303.

Fortunately the powers that be saw fit to put bridges over the A11 – which this route crosses twice.  You might also notice that the OSM cycle map shows a route highlighted in green that follows a lot of the good byways and bridleways. Someone is going to some trouble to map out a really neat, but huge route. I have cycled along quite a few of the bridleways and byways in the area that it follows someone is doing an excellent job.

My first stop was at the start of the Roman Road byway – nigh on 70m above sea level and the views across towards Cambridge are good.  I hadn’t realised the vignetting was so bad – I could have processed it out – sorry.

Incineration Towers - Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge

A map of the ride
Click on it for the Bike Router Toaster Link

Cambridge from the start of the Roman Road

The Roman Road is a popular spot and the area around the road entrance gets a bit clogged with cars. There is a narrow entrance, presumably designed to block cars entering – but some still do.

Having said all that the actual track is never that bad. I usually see other people but surprisingly few considering how pleasant it it. I guess that quite a few probably go to Wandelbury and don’t venture much further.

Here is a leaflet from the Friends of the Roman Road.

Roman Road to Balsham – an arch of Spring Trees

A little further along the track and there have been some “road repairs”.  This bit seems to have been flattened and cleared to the edges. The going was good to soft – so not too bad on my 25mm wide tyres. Personally I prefer hard-packed mud.

 Roman Road to Balsham – road repairs even here!

The track takes you through every changing countryside with the views changing on either side. I like cycling along this “single-track”. In places where the rut gets a little deeper I have to concentrate on allowing my bike to follow the rut rather than steering the bike down the rut. This is the new meditation – you have to force yourself to relax.

I also really like the ups and downs – there is nothing too steep but you get to stretch you legs.

 Roman Road to Balsham – Multi-Single-track and Ups and Downs

The scenery keeps changing. You might also be able to see a group of three people checking out something at the edge of the track.

 Roman Road to Balsham – Wonderful Hedgerows

Amazingly, given how the motor vehicle seems to rule and all others can go sod themselves there is a bridge over the A11. (Unlike the Peddars Way crossing of the A11) It was probably built because there are a few houses  and a garage just here (Worsted Lodge).  The bridge does take the occasional car – and you do see a few cars parked by people walking the Roman Road.

At the moment there are roadworks on the A11, or rather investigations of the safety barriers.  This is where I look down and pity the poor sods stuck in their cars on such a glorious day.

 Roman Road to Balsham – Crossing the A11

This is one of the small climby bits – that patch of yellow on the left of the path are cowslips.

Roman Road to Balsham – ever-changing

As you get closer to the Balsham “turn” you also get good views of the Old Linton Water Tower – built in 1935/36 from brick with an Art Deco design. It sits on Rivey Hill overlooking Linton.

Linton Water Tower on Rivey Hill – seen from the Roman Road

The byway from the roman road to Balsham is a little less easy to cycle – the sruface is a little more rugged and rutted. It is worse when it has been raining a lot though.

As you climb up (climb might be  slight exaggeration) you pass Balsham Wood to your right and see the Wadlow Wind Farm turbines come into view. See how these trees have yet to spring into leaf.

Wadlow Wind Farm coming into view on the way from the Roman Road to Balsham

Don’t forget to look behind you though, the views are glorious.

Looking over the route of the Roman Road, near Balsham

I usually head down the High Street and then along Fox Road to another byway, heading north-east.

This is another delightful place to cycle – yes there is the Wadlow Wind Farm very close by. Which when the wind is blowing makes a thrumming noise. (Whilst I am thinking about it large Solar Farms are out of favour!).

This track is slightly trickier than the Roman Road but the views are still wonderful. The bit near Balsham is quite rugged, as you progress the track narrows and there are three ruts – two car vehicles and the middle for cycles and motorcycles.

This is where I have to really focus on relaxing – don’t fight the front wheel. As I cycle down here I sometimes think, perhaps I should have stuck my helmet on, particularly when I have  wobble moment.

The Byway from Fox Road, Balsham

This byway is not very busy, this was the first time I have seen a motor vehicle along it. Well except that very occasionally there can be travellers at the Balsham end.

As he passed I commented that he beat me to the bottom – her wasn’t so sure.  He took it pretty steady. I have to admit that once upon a time I used to ride a motorbike on tracks like this – it is great fun – but there is something more satisfying about doing it under your own steam.

As you can see there is also a bit of a climb on the other side.

A Fellow Explorer on the Byway from Fox Road, Balsham

The is picture shows the route of a byway leading off towards West Wratting. You end up on a road though – so I rarely take it.

Byways in the Cambridgeshire Countryside

I can’t ignore the elephant in the room though – to one side of the byway are some bl**dy big wind turbines – Wadlow Wind Farm – rather  sparse information.

Part of Wadlow Wind Farm

After a bit more byway (and crossing two roads) you come to Grange Road (hill) and pass the Brinkland Woodland Cemetery. Note the OSM map seems to have omitted the byway to Grange Road, but the kind person who has been mapping a long mainly, off-road route means you can see it.

These roads are pretty quiet, then you turn down Westley Bottom Road which brings you to a DIY level Crossing.

I winder what it would take to make this route a more useful commuter route into Cambridge. I guess being single-track and non-electric means it is pretty slow.

Recently Clear Trackside – Cambridge Ipswich Line – Westley Bottom

The route then gets back onto byway (Heath Road) where you get another chance to gloat at the motons.  There is a whole bunch in the left-hand lane that don’t appear to know the Two Second Rule.

I wonder how many of these have only one occupant – 7 out of 10? Probably higher since this was Sunday.

Heath Road Byway crossing the A11

Looking towards the North another group of cars that look to be following the 0.5 second rule – I could work it out (or at lease estimate it) but life is too short.

Heath Road Byway crossing the A11

Heath Road - traffic

A lot of Oil seed Rape has been grown around here this year – so I took a few pictures whilst it was at its yellowest.

Blue Sky – Yellow Field – Heath Road

Blue Sky – Yellow Field – Heath Road – Wadlow Wind Farm Wind Turbines

Blue Sky – Yellow Field – Heath Road


Blue Sky – Yellow Field – Heath Road – Electricity Pylons

Acrtually some of these might have been taken on the byway crossing Heath Road which on the old maps is called Street Way.

Blue Sky – Yellow Field – Heath Road – Electricity Pylons

Blue Sky – Yellow Field – Heath Road – Electricity Pylons

So the bottom line – a great ride – go for it on the next fine opportunity.


  1. That green route is The Icknield Way Trail (see on OSM). The Icknield Way can't be followed by cycles and horses so this follows as closely as possible.

    My winter project was to get the cycling versions of The Ridgeway, Icknield Way and Peddars Way into OSM and joined up so they could be followed in one ride. The Peddars Way Bridle Route, and Icknield Way Trail already existed. Half The Ridgeway can be followed by bike, but the eastern end can't so cycles are advised to pickup the Swan's Way. Being a little tricky to navigate, I invented 'The RidgeWay Trail' (which only exists in OSM) and follows the Ridgeway to Goring, the joins to the Icknield Way.

    I've added my contributions to the OSM wiki showing the UK's long distance paths.

    One day I'd like to ride all the way from the start of the Wessex Ridgeway at Lyme Regis, and using these routes, ride to the Norfolk Coast.

    1. Well done - I will have a look at the map and plan a visit. I have cycled on some of them in my travels - but it is great to see them joined up. I personally reckon that a bicycle is a better way to see the countryside - but my wife walks and so would disagree - but each to their own :-)

    2. i meant to ask a question as well, has the bit of the byway from Six Mile Bottom Road to the Pumping Station (Grange Road) always been missing on the OSM map, I thought it had been added.

    3. Fixed. The 'way' was in the database but was recorded with attributes highway=byway. The byway tagging was deprecated as it conflated the physical and legal concepts of a byway, and the keepers of the standard Mapnik style no longer draw byways on their map.

      I've replaced with highway=track and designation=public_byway and it should show up soon.

    4. Thanks - I use the OSM a lot for my cycling - I rally ought to learn how to contribute to the OSM but you know what they say about roads and good intentions.

      You have done some great work on creating the trail - I will have to see if I can find a little time and ride it. I can use it as an excuse to get a 29er.

  2. I've ridden that loop a lot as I live in Fulbourn :) The road repairs are because off road motors are legally allowed to use that bit of the trail. They churn the track up creating deep ruts. I always assumed the council fixed it. Luckily it's closed to motor traffic during winter - it was a real mess before they did this.

    1. For some reason I assumed it was a restricted byway, but without any evidence. This newsletter from the Friends

      suggests the bit from Cambridge to the Balsham turn is. But I am not sure. I have not seen any motor vehicles use it, though. (I assumed the ruts were caused by agricultural vehicles.)

    2. I have just checked the CCC On-line Right of Way Map: The Map. It isn't a Restricted Byway but rather a Byway with TROs (Traffic Regulation Orders). Although I am not sure quite what the difference is. I hadn't realised but the CCC map now shows the TROs and allows you to click through to a scanned copy of the TRO.