Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rough Track vs Road - no competition!

It was such a lovely day that I thought I would stick to tracks as much as possible and also try out some new ones after a bit of map study. I use a great website - which brings up a Google map alongside an Ordnance Survey map. Cursors in each window allow you to compare the two maps and see the level of detail you expect from the OS map The only downside is that the Creator as a deal which limits the number of OS pages he can serve. So by the end of the day if the quota has been used you don't get the OS Map displayed.. You can create on and off-road routes and download them to a GPS system as well. Most of the time I just look around areas and check out what by-ways there are and head out to try them out. I f ind that the byways of Cambridgeshire are rarely heavily used, making them much easier and more pleasant to cycle along than the shared-use cycle/pedestrian ways. Roads require concentration, 'cos it definitely feel like some motorists are out to get you and shared cycleways require concentration to avoid the slower moving pedestrians (and their dogs). Whereas the tracks just require concentration on the track itself, when cycling along you have to pay attention to the surface, ruts can be quite off-putting and so can sandy surfaces. With ruts you can find the bike steering itself and with soft surfaces the front wheel can dig in and the bike tries to stop. Actually for me the most difficult tracks are rutted and muddy ones - they clog up the brakes and wheels as well.

How about this for a track, it is surfaced road but where you turn of a road proper to get onto it there is an earth bank to stop motor vehicles, which means that apart from the odd motorcycle you can't get any cars out this way. I have noticed that wherever there is a walk cars will park to access the walk which is understandable but can be irritating for the locals. There is more to come on that subject as the Wicken Fen Vision has ruffled some feathers here in Cambridgeshire and I will comment on it in another post.


It was a very pleasant path which passed some large yellow fields! which at this time of year have quite a strong smell, some hate it, but for me it is not a problem


When cycling in this part of the world there are not many very long off-road tracks so when back on the road I sometimes explore all of the dead ends - roads that go nowhere. I was cycling through the village of Horningsea which is close to the river cam. One "No Through Road" in the village lead to this lovely view of the River Cam.


Another road led to this less idyllic cottage in need of some TLC (Tender Loving Care). Judging from the cracks in the wall the building has lost its structural integrity and will need some significant work. It is up for auction so anyone up for it? You could also appear on the Channel 4 program "Grand Designs" which follows the fortunes of people building and renovating houses.


Out of Horningsea I was able to get back onto tracks which lead back to Quy there is quite a lot of "common" ground and some unexpected views. This is a rather nice "pond" judging from its appearance it was excavated as it is a bit linear. Whilst cycling along the track bu the pond I did pass one or two walkers. I generally say hello to people as I pass them and alway (nearly) say thank you when dogs are restrained or people step to one side to allow me to pass. In this case the "gentleman" I passed appeared to be carrying his trousers! Here in the UK it is quite usual to see men not wearing shirts in such circumstances, getting a bit of suntan, but very rarely do you see someone wearing a T-shirt but no trousers. It certainly flummoxed me and I did not give a cheery greeting as I passed. Later I passed a gentleman carrying a crash helmet but appeared to have just gotten out of a car - hum the plot thickened, but not sufficiently that I wanted to turn back!


After that excitement I headed to White Fen. I regularly pass a couple of Herons, but by the time I have gotten my camera out they fly off into the distance, even if I try to creep up on them a car passes by and scares them into flight. To prove I really do see them he is a short video clip of one of the Herons flying away. Although given the resolution of these clips you can be forgiven for not believing me,

Back off the road I passed a field that previously had been sheets of plastic, acting as a mini-greenhouse. It is amazing how quickly the plants had grown - although I am not sure what they are. It shows how the warm weather has accelerated plant growth from trees to weeds.


This clip shows the Farmer in his tractor stripping away the plastic from the field. Like many such agricultural tasks it seems that someone has designed a tractor firment to speed it up.

It is not just the plants enjoying the Spring. Here are some deer I spotted in the field alongside the road to Upware. As well as these two live deer there was also a dead deer by the roadside.


And of course the obligatory video clip of the deer running away.

The route took me past Wicken Fen and the day before, which was much windier, I saw the local windmill spinning away:

Back to todays sunny exploration day I headed for a track that I had not cycled along before. It is always good to know that there will not be any stunt motorcycles jumping cars as I cycle along. This track heads from Burwell to Exning, a place that claims to have had both Queen Boadiccea and Saint Ethelreda as inhabitants (see more at


This sort of track on a lovely day with not a soul around makes for a great route to explore on a bicycle.


Every now and then the hedgerows open out onto the flat farmlands of the Fens.


Whilst at other times paths cross which require further exploration. This path I came across was quite tricky to cycle along in places as there were quite a few freshly sawn stumps, but I cycled along it where it came out on a road and then back to the first path so I got some practice in.


After a bit of boring road I came upon another path that I sort of knew about but had never ventured along. It took me by the A14 - a main road in these parts, but went on for quite a few miles - again not a soul on the path.


Some thoughtless git had decided to dump some rubbish on the path, but it looked like the motor vehicle users of the path just barged on through. I hope I don't get asbetosis from it.


By the end I had cycled along several paths that I had not been along before despite living in the area for around 20 years! My total journey was around 60Km of which a third was not on road. In fact a quarter of the total journey was on track and 10 percent was on share cycle/walk ways. You are never to old to learn!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Out and About

So nine weeks after my accident I am really enjoying my cycling. Being a glass half-full sort of person if anything the accident has renewed my pleasure in cycling and taking pictures whilst pootling around. I have already explored some by-ways and tracks that are new to me and I thought I'd been along most of them in the area. Mind you I am more aware of other "road-users". One of these days I am going to spend a day cycling around Cambridge and surrounding countryside and try to take pictures of all the selfish behaviour I see. It could be tricky stopping to take pictures of drivers using mobile phones though. Whilst cycling through Cambridge the other day an open top sports car pulled up alongside me. I was in a cycle lane and hopefully we were both going straight on, but once bitten twice shy, I gave the driver a hard stare - yep the t*sser was on the phone and for some reason was using the holding the phone but in speakerphone mode. He was clearly distracted as his getaways at the lights were definitely slow - he was on the phone for at least half a mile before I had had enough and turned off along another road.

Forgive the font colour, I have been experimenting with Zoundry Raven (off-line Blog Editor -, it has certainly been easier than posting through the Google Blogspot Internet window. As I get more used to it and RTFM - (yes Read The Flippin' Manual) I find it does most things I want to do. I have been reading quite a few other Blogs at the moment and have been inspired to do a little more to mine. I have also added a couple to my Blog reading List. Readers of my last post will also see that I have finally cracked how to add a Google map to a post - not rocket science, but it all takes time :-)

There are often little publicised cycle/walking routes between adjacent villages that shorten what would be a much longer ride along a very busy road. Two such adjacent villages are Dry Drayton and Bar Hill in Cambridge. They are also both alongside the A14, which is a horrible road to cycle along, fast and noisy and the scene of at least one cyclist fatality in the last few years. as you cycle down to the path in Dry Drayton there is a tree sculpture that amused me, it will also presumably be a place for insects and other wildlife to flourish as well.


On my way back from meandering through the villages around Cambridge I returned back through Histon where I was knocked of my bicycle in February (broken collar bone and bruises). I was interested to have a closer look at the junction where I was hit by a car to see if there were any intrinsic problems with the junction. Here it is, I have annotated it to show my original intended path, the path of the car and the route I actually took. The day of the picture was pretty similar to the day of the accident. Helpfully a cyclist went by to help my illustration, although he turned left whereas I wanted to go straight on. There do not appear to be any sight-line issues, it was a case perhaps being distracted and failing to see me, fortunately the car bumped me up the road rather than running over me so all in all although I was unlucky to be hit I was lucky not to be actually run over.


I have taken loads of photographs recently, this one caught my eye because of the aeroplane contrail in the blue sky.


As the weather gets warmer the crops and flowers grow - but so do the weeds and somehow they seem to race ahead of the intended crops, which is why they call them weeds I suppose! No sooner have you got fields of dandelion flowers than they turn to seed heads ready to seed more weeds. Alternatively they can be picked and when I was younger we used to call them Dandelion Clocks, the time was indicated by how many puffs of breath it took to clear the head of seeds.


Whilst I have reported on the Cambridge Guided Busway in earlier posts which in the main follows and old railway track bed, there are others still available for cycling along here in Cambridge. This one is along the track of what was the Cambridge to Mildenhall Railway line, it closed to passenger traffic in 1962, further information can be found here. The picture is a composite showing a 180 degree image of both sides, they did not actually build it with a 90 degree bend in the track. It makes for good cycling, a flat cinder bed is quite easy to cycle along and does not seem to suffer from ruts. Which implies it is not a tractor route.

Lode to Quy rail track_Panorama1.jpg

It does lead on to some rather pleasant by-ways though. There are quite a few pretty steep drainage ditches around separating some of the fields though.


Fortunately there are wooden bridges around to facilitate crossing them. I have noticed one slight niggle with my shoulder - as I have been resting it, it has gotten weaker so heaving my bicycle over stiles has been a bit more of a challenge than usual. Whilst in niggle mood I also lost my drinks bottle before I set off I fill a bottle with crushed ice then lemon squash and top it up with water. It tends to stay cold quite well then although they are only plastic and do not have much insulation. Unfortunately this also slightly shrinks the bottle and it must have jumped out of the bottle cage when going over a bump or two. This one was a replacement, with an "A to Z London MAP" pattern on it that I got for Christmas as a replacement for my "Dennis the Menace" bottle that I lost cycling in Cambodia, as you do. That was one I got for my birthday last year. The good thing about them was that they had screw tops which made it easy to get ice in, although perhaps the fact I've lost two (both from Foska) perhaps indicates the fit is not the best? The bottle cages were two different makes so it was not a problem with a dodgy bottle cage.

There was one other slightly strange thing I saw when out. Normally, at minimum say I hello to people I pass when out in the "wilds" of the Fens. Most people tend to be friendly and sometimes you can end up having quite a chat. Well today in a relatively secluded but popular spot, )near where you can find a memorial stone to a chap called William Ison who was struck by lightning 1n 1873) I passed a chap who appeared to be carrying his trousers over his arm, fortunately his shirt was quite long, but I did not stop to work out exactly what he was wearing, nor did I say hello! Hum there is nowt so strange as folk.


Although I am a glass half-full sort of person I can also adopt a Grumpy Old man state of mind as well. Here a couple of my pet peeves when I am out and about cycling. Here in Cambridge in the shared use walking/cycling paths there are constructs built into the path surface to indicate "junctions" or crossing points. For some reason they have ridges in the direction of travel for the cyclists and across the direction of travel for the walkers. I presume this is allow visually impaired people to navigate. I for one find the cyclists ridges very off-putting, when cycling along they cause the cycle to jink uncomfortably, randomly to one or the other side, it is worse in wet weather as the surface is smooth and really causes the bike to slither around. The one thing they do for me is encourage me to cycle on the roads.


And finally what really winds me up - vehicles routinely block pavements and shared-use paths. In this case I had to cycle on the road, anyone pushing a pram would struggle to get by. This one is delivering coal, why they could not reverse into the customers drive I don't know - laziness perhaps. For a visually impaired person it would be a disaster. It is an example of how selfishness has become the norm for motorists, I probably do the same when driving a car. It becomes routine to feel so hard done by because of the volume of traffic and our belief that our road tax/petrol tax entitles us to better that we feel entitled these "short-cuts"


And really finally during my recuperation I have been doing way too much Internet browsing, reading various cycling-related Blogs but also finding one or two sites with interesting whimsical cartoons. here is one such cartoon that is both whimsical and cycling related. As required by the author I have pointed out that if you want to manufacture it you need to get in touch with him :-) You would definitely need clipped pedals for that bike.

"You can put this blueprint on your blog as long as you put a clause underneath it saying that people cannot manufacture this bicycle without their people talking to my people first."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Avoiding the Roads - Aldreth Causeway

With my clavicle healing I have been doing more and more off-road cycling, this keeps me away from motorists, who really don't seem to understand how vulnerable cyclists are, but also more importantly provides more of a shoulder workout. When cycling on rutted tracks you spend more time moving the bike around and there are times when you have to heave the bike over stiles - which definitely requires strength in the arms. I also think it helps to encourage joint mobility.

At the moment with the nice weather many of the tracks are actually quite dry and so easier to cycle on with relatively thin tyres, which means I use my hybrid bike (Marin San Anselmo) rather than my mountain bike (Diamond Back Ascent). The MTB is great for really rough tracks, but has much thicker knobbly tyres (26" x 1.95") compared with the Marin which has thinner tyres (700C x 26mm). I know I am mixing my measures but the knobbly tyres are twice as wide and have a significant - well knobbly - tread pattern. This means they provide good for traction on rough ground and on muddy tracks and cushion the rider against the bumps but when cycling on roads are much less efficient. so more effort is wasted when cycling compared with the thinner tyres without much tread pattern. When cycling on the road on my MTB you can hear a buzzing noise which is where some energy is being lost, most of it is in lost in heat caused by the knobbly bits moving around on the tyre though.

Surprisingly, well it was to me as a driver, there are loads of tracks around the Cambridgeshire area that you can legitimately cycle along. I do not mean the share cycling/walking paths - there are old routes that never quite made it to road status but can sometimes provide more direct routes which are definitely more pleasant than on the noisier busier roads. They often have quite a heritage as well - the Aldreth Causeway is one such route. Before the Fens were drained there were very few ways of getting to the Isle of Ely, other than by river or one of three causeways. The Aldreth Causeway is apparently the oldest of the three and was part of an ancient road from Cambridge to Ely.

The track probably dates from pre-historic times as there have been finds from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. It also featured in attempts by William the Conqueror to oust Hereward and his men from the Isle of Ely in 1071. Apparently Hereward was able to wage a guerrilla war against the Normans (who apparently unsuccessfully used witchcraft at one point) but eventually were betrayed by the Monks who lived on the Isle who wished to change sides, Hereward escaped. How do I know this - well the route has a number of interesting boards placed along the path to interest and inform people using the path.

There is a "by-way" starting in Histon which you can cycle along pretty much all the way to Aldreth but on this occasion I picked up the track from near Rampton. As you go past on the road this is how you see the track, the first time I went along it I happened to be passing by and set off without being sure of where it headed, later on I checked out my route on the map and nowadays also have the benefit of GPS on my bike to highlight tracks like these. I am not quite sure why the route is banned to motor traffic over the winter period, perhaps because it will be more prone to wear and tear when wet? Although you cannot see it on the picture there are a couple of Traveller caravans just up on the left. I am always a little wary of dogs when cycling but have never had any problems from Traveller dogs, although I did once come across travellers with 5 or 6 horses grazing across the path. Agricultural areas such as the Fens used to rely heavily on itinerant labour to perform the labour intensive parts of farming such as harvesting. Nowadays that role seems to be filled by young people from eastern Europe. (On the Sustrans 51 route to Ely you pass a Hostel for such farm workers and there are signs in 6 or 7 different languages about the place.) Nowadays Travellers have a pretty raw deal getting moved along wherever they stop.


The path is not very rutted at the start although it is quite soft in places which can cause the front wheel to dig in, the best thing to do is transfer your weight to the rear of the bike - moving your bottom of the saddle to behind the saddle. This part of the path pass through an earthwork known as Belsar's Hill, a 12m-wide ditch with banking up to 2m high. According to one of the information plaques it is believed to date back to the Iron Age (800BC to AD42), it is privately owned so you can only look from the path though.


There are the inevitable Old Seed Rape fields growing along the path providing a blaze of cheerful colour and the Farmhouses dotting the countryside. This farm is known as Tibbits Farm.


From the look of the track it does not appear to be heavily used by tractors, they tend to rut the pathway far more than this, it is quite wide though which probably helps it to survive. This picture looks back along the track


Looking forward you can see yet more yellow fields peeping through and occasionally the track will join a road before becoming track again.


The first time the track crosses a road (Hempsals Road) it opens out and becomes an opportunity to take a more panoramic picture - this one was made up of around 5 individual pictures.

Aldreth yellow fields_Panorama1-1.jpg

Back on the track proper it is much more rutted in places - it is an active agricultural route after all. At one point it passes over a small bridge and you can see Aldreth in the distance. I followed a tractor up this part of the track and passed two groups of walkers enjoying the Spring sunshine.


I also passed a field being irrigated, this slowly turned around - I did not hang around to see if it also moved up the field at all.


The route I took covered around 6Km/3.7miles which probably halved the distance if I had taken the road route, more important to me though was it was much more tranquil and required me to focus on cycling and not car/lorry avoidance. This Google map shows the track the straight line running from the bottom left the the top right into the small group of houses/farms which is Aldreth.

If you look closely you can see that the track first passes through a green field through the oval of Belsar's Hill. If you toggle the Sat/Map setting you can see Aldreth more clearly.