Monday, September 29, 2014

Cambridge to Ipswich on the NCN51–more or less

Friday, 20th June 2014:For choice I like cycling in varying countryside, with gently undulating hills on hard-pack tracks, away from cars (and other motor vehicles) and of course we also know that the moon is made of cheese.

I also prefer not to retrace my route and either take a loop or catch the train home again. Whilst I am being idealistic I also prefer nice weather as well. But you can't have everything. One ride I do from time to time is  is cycle to Ipswich on the NCN51, more or less and then back by train.  A quick search on my Blog and it looks as if the last time I rode the entire route was back in May 2010.  I hadn’t realised that it was so long ago.  As rides go it passes through some pleasant countryside, it makes a pleasant day-ride without being over long (well for me anyway).

I generally follow, or attempt to follow the Sustrans NCN51 route. Although it isn’t always that straightforward in places. Being a Sustrans route it is also by no means the shortest route, it does go around the houses, literally in the towns like Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket  and figuratively when it comes to the route between Bottisham and Newmarket. There is a signpost in Bottisham with the route to Newmarket signed as  6 miles, or 15 miles following the Sustrans route. That is quite a bit of indirection.

Having said that when I am cycling for pleasure and have the day then I will generally pick the scenic route, if I have a meeting then it is a different matter. To travel 2.5 times the distance when under time pressure is crazy.

This time around I followed NCN51 pretty closely (via SatNav) and didn’t take many picture close to Cambridge since I already have quite a few of those.  I did take this one of the Heath Road between Burwell and Exning though. It can be a very pleasant country lane – although you do get speeding vehicles from time to time.

Planning permission has also been granted for a 27.2MW Solar Farm  on are area of slightly over 60 hectares (a little under 150 acres)  down this road and to the left which will temporarily make this road much busier during the construction period. The planning documents do mention the issue of passing spaces, but a proposal for 3 temporary and 1 permanent passing place appears to have been withdrawn.

Whilst having a look on the web for details of this development it would seem that another Solar Farm is being talked about at Goosehall Farm between Burwell and Wicken, this one would be more than 200 acres in size apparently. There seems to be a push on to convert farm land into power generation. Of course being “green” it sounds good, but still turns fields into a more industrial landscape.  Perhaps we ought to call Car Parks Car Farms to make people feel better about them. I can only assume that Solar Farming is easier than real farming.

I can’t help feel that the whole approach to new housing and roads and solar farms is incredibly piecemeal. The latter development is very close to Wicken Fen and constrains the stewardship of an important area of wildlife.

Heath Road, Burwell
Permission Granted for a Solar Farm down the road

Here is the map of my ride and here is the Bike Route Toaster Link. The total distance, railway station to railway station is 112.3Km/70 miles according to Bike Route Toaster. It does undulate but not too much and the countryside makes for some very pleasant cycling. this time around I programmed my SatNav with the route and also paid attention to the signs. I would not have chosen the route through Newmarket.

I would also have cycled more directly from Barrow to Little Saxham and I find the Sustrans route through Bury St Edmunds confusing. this time around even with the SatNav I found that I was having to pay more attention to the traffic than the route my GPS was suggesting. Fortunately I kind of know where I should be heading. Next time I will turn left after crossing the A14 and then straight on.

Despite having the route programmed into my SatNav I missed the turn through the Supermarket Car park on Lliffe Way. I had also programmed to go the wrong way down Ipswich Street so I walked. I think that there is some sort of interaction between the OSM map and Bike Route Toaster which creates odd routings sometimes.

I also missed my turn in Ipswich but kind of new where I was heading. When cycling or driving I feel that it is way more important to pay attention to the road than the SatNav, however when driving generally the routes are well signposted. That is not always the case for Sustrans routes. They are generally signed, however the positioning of the blue signs can be somewhat haphazard and you can end up wending through some odd alleyways.

Cambridge to Ipswich – via NCN51

A Sprinkle of Red and White – Poppies and Daisies along Heath Road

once out of Newmarket the road climbs up and then down to Moulton (Pack Horse Bridge). There is another climb to Gazeley and then a right turn soon after Gazeley, down a By Road to Desning Hall.  the term By Road indicates a side road little travelled apparently.

Sustrans NCN51 – well signed – down a By Road

Once you have turned down the byroad then it does feel like pretty deep countryside – of the agricultural style.  Since there aren’t that many signs about it is pretty easy to see the Sustrans signs.

NCN51 Straight On
(Gazeley to Barrow)

The road undulates on this section as well, quite steep (for a flatlander) but not  very long.

Gazeley to Barrow

Despite the fact that the A14 isn’t far over the horizon it feels like deep countryside.

NCN51 Gazeley to Barrow

the fields look to be ripening well. Although this field seems to have some sort of weed problem.  I am not quite sure what it is though.

NCN51 Gazeley to Barrow

NCN51 Gazeley to Barrow

At Barrow you could quite easily head, more or less, straight on, but the route instead drops south and then makes its way back north again.  I am not really sure why, perhaps the detour is a quieter road. I have been both ways and I am not sure the extra distance is worth it.

Both routes join at Little Saxham, I couldn’t resist stopping and having a look at the Church of St Nicholas, one of 38 round-tower churches in Suffolk apparently.

Church of St Nicholas – Little Saxham

After cycling through the maze that is Bury St Edmunds, where NCN51 and NCN13 seem to randomly intertwine on the outskirts there is a cycle path that runs parallel to the road, but separated by a hedge.  You have to cross the road at one point but the secluded shared-use path continues until you reach the Heath Road (another Heath Road).  That short bit of path is most welcome after the chaotic routing in Bury St Edmunds, if only there was more such paths.

NCN51 Shared-use and separated from the road
Bury St Edmunds – Thurston

Even after the shared use path you still get a country lane with only couple of houses at the end of it. I have never seen a car on it I don’t think.  Then you have to cross a railway line. Tragically a cyclist was killed at a nearby crossing at Cattishall. The article indicates that around 76 trains pass per day at speeds of up to 75mph. You do have to pay attention, trains are surprisingly quiet until they are upon you.

According to the press there are plans to replace the Thurston crossing with a footbridgeAlthough there are complaints that the bridge will be an eyesore for the nearby residents.  As far as I am concerned the railways and footbridges haven’t a good track record when it comes to get bicycles over them.  The matter is discussed here – apparently underpass are too expensive.

The Planning Application was only the day before my ride – 19th June 2014

This is what the crossing look like from the Thurston side. There is no light to warn of passing trains. There is a Samaritans notice though. You can also see houses in the background

Thurston Railway Crossing

The View of the railway line from the Cambridge direction, with what looks like a collection of spare bits of track in case a giant want to play with his/her train set.

Up-rail from the Thurston Crossing

As if often the way with Sustrans routes the route crosses back under the line soon after. In fact the route could be shortened  by avoiding the crossing and Thurston altogether.  It wiggles about a bit and passes through Woolpit are rather nice village.  After Woolpit the route follows yet another Heath Road – which seems to gave acquired a new shared-use path, sometime in the last few years.

I am easily confused and that occurs most often when Sustrans routes also seem undecided about what direction they wish you to take. It is even worse in the middle of a busy town.  As I cycled into Stowmarket it started well. I turned off the “direct route” onto Chilton Way which took me through Stowmarket Recreation Ground  - which was busy with people of all ages enjoying the sun. I should have mapped the direct NCN51 route along Finborough Road/Tavern Street/Station Road West and then right onto Gipping Way. (It sound more complicated than it is). Instead I turned down Lliffe Way and didn’t realise I had to cycle through the ASDA car park.  I then found I had incorrectly planned a route cycle the wrong way down a one way street – Ipswich Street. So I walked it (not far) and the carried on until Takers Lane brought me to the main road.

By and large the route follows the Needham Road but manages to use a shared-use path into Stowmarket and then you head out back over the A14 before  reaching Sally Woods Lane – a bridleway – named after an inhabitant of the area. I found it perfectly rideable on my hybrid bike (Maisie). But some care is needed with in places because of potholes and  the loose surface – it is a bridleway. Apparently horse riders prefer not to tide on tarmac.

Sally Woods Lane (NCN51 nr Stowmarket)

The bridleway brings you out on the Coddenham Road where the next challenge is crossing the A140.   At this point the A140 is a dual carriageway. As cars come swopping down they are warned that it is an accident site and   in this Google StreetView there is a speed camera was well as 50mph signs. But not much else – apart from a sign advertising services and a roundabout. This is what drivers see just as they approach the crossing. As it happens I drove along the road (both ways) during the Summer visiting friends in Walberswick. I would have been even more careful than I was at the time had I known.

Crossing the A140 - NCN51

Strangely the approach taken to “warn” cyclists (and pedestrians) is to put up loads of posts indicating that it is a shared-use path. Fortunately there is a large island in the middle, however cars really do whizz by. Pay attention.

Crossing the A140 - NCN51

The route passes Shrubland Hall and grounds, this is the Lodge. At one point the 24-bedroom house and Park was up for sale (£6,500,000). It is now a 7* Hotel.  Although I can’t see any pricing information on the website – perhaps if you have to ask you can’t afford it, although how do you book it?

The Lodge – Shrubland Hall

After that it was “downhill” all the way. Well once I’d reached the outskirts of Ipswich. Once again I  stopped following the route (not deliberately) – just here. I found my way again here. is it me or  do you need to know where you are going if you cycle into strange places using Sustrans Route. More than once, in a new town I cycle on the roads and find the railway station using the road signs – they tend to be more direct and less ambiguous with less hopping along strange alleys. Once I know where I am going then it becomes easier to use the Sustrans routes.

Car slowing for a speed bump in Ipswich

There is a train every hour from Ipswich to Cambridge – not fast at around 1 hour 20 minutes, but quite pleasant.


  1. Heath Road Solar Panel Farm

    Hi Jamie,

    in fact your photo of Heath Road shows the site of the farm, it's on the left of the road from where you took the picture all the way to the old RAF hangers visible on the horizon, and takes in that field and another of the same size out of sight to the left.

    Work started in the last week of September with a bit of site establishment and building 4 passing places along the road near the crests. The have been tarmaced and it would be very useful if they were to stay, but I believe that only one is to be permanent. Two people have been killed in car collisions on that road in the past 10-15 years, and there have been a couple of serious injury crashes too, so despite its peaceful look the way people drive along it makes it rather hazardous.

    That's my normal cycle route to the nearest supermarkets and shops in Newmarket, and I'm not looking forward to the next 2-3 months at all.

    I thought it rather odd that the Newmarket Racecourse did not comment at the planning stage, as they are neighbours and the panels will be visible from the top of the grandstand, and from ground level too in winter when the trees lining the A14 are bare. Perhaps because the whole thing is in Cambridgeshire and the Rowley Mile is in Suffolk they were not told?



    1. I popped down Heath Road and took a picture of one of the passing spaces the other day - they don't seem to be very long passing spaces. Although I was using my 100mm - 300mm lens when I took the pictures.

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