Sunday, May 31, 2009

Noodling Around Norfolk

The weather has been glorious for the last few days here in the Flatlands. On Thursday I gave a short talk to a bunch of aspiring entrepreneurs, and then enjoyed a BBQ whilst answering questions One of the best bits was, that I had mentioned that I was now interested and concerned about the planet and worried about the "denial" about having to make changes in lifestyle (including more cycling :-). This prompted a number of the participants to come and agree with me and express their concerns and confusion as to why Global Warming was not being taken more seriously. Unfortunately here in the UK there seems to be too much focus on MPs expenses and too little on the future of the planet. Mind you I do agree that some of the claims they have been making were outrageous and it was pathetic to hear the oft-repeated it was within the rules. We have a right to better moral integrity from our leaders.

Anyway Thursday was a late night as I did not get home until 10pm so I decided to head off for a day's cycling on Friday. I had one conference call towards the end of the afternoon, so my only constraint was to ensure that I was somewhere near a base-station at 4.30pm. I managed to get emails out of the way and set off around 10am. My favourite food of choice when cycling is jelly babies. whenever my local supermarket does a twofer I stock up on them. (Two for One). They are light, yummy and help to prevent the bonk! (Cyclists term for running out of energy.) In fact I have just checked my supplies and I am down to my last packet - must get some more in.

The weather was sunny and warm, not quite as warm as I was expecting, but warm enough for a t-shirt, shorts and sandals. I have just bought some new sandals I like to read other people's tales of cycling, both for inspiration and to learn and perhaps seek new challenges. There are quite a few I read. Note I am not a racer, I cycle for pleasure, commuting, health, vitamin D and to try to reduce my carbon footprint. I do drive, but for the last couple of years my cycling mileage has exceeded my driving mileage - but I do admit to owning a 4x4, which is great for carting bikes around. Back to the sandals I saw on this Blog - "let's Go Ride a Bike" that the author had gotten some Keen sandals - "a bit ugly but never get smelly". I like to cycle around in sandals, but do sometimes get a bit worried about exposed toes and smells. So with a bit of digging around found that they were also sold in the UK by Webtogs. They did look a little chunky, but would take Shimano SPD clips and had some sort of anti-smell capability so I bought a pair. They arrived very quickly, the Post Office Mail delivery is very good round these parts. My "posties" cycle and yet manage to carry loads of stuff including the huge box my new sandals arrived in.

I did not bother with putting the clips on but just set out to road test the sandals. I set of on my touring bike because my plan was to head to Thetford Forest and take a trail through the forest and then take it from there. I took a more direct route than usual as I headed out, but this plaque by the roadside in the village of Burwell caught my eye. Wise woman or Witch!.


Thetford forest has a couple of Sustrans routes through it (13 and 30)- which have some really nice off-road bits. So I generally get over to a place called Hockwold cum Wilton and follow route 30from there. I have just checked the Sustrans web site and noticed that I missed a bit of off-road on the way into Hockwold, must remember that for the next time I am over in those parts. Here is route 30 through the forest. I only saw one other person here, another cyclist. I must be getting out of practice or doing to much cycling on my MTB. I ended up having to walk on chunks of the soft sandy track. I have cycled this on my Longstaff in the past (25mm tyres) but I struggled this time around. I find the back wheel slews to the left and digs in and I end up jumping off the bike. I am sure I could do it with the bigger knobbly tyres on my MTB but a lot of this ride was also on road which is slower on the MTB - swings and roundabouts.

I was plenty warm enough and had put on some suntan lotion, I use factor 30 which for my skin does the trick. When I was cycling in Cambodia it was enough to stop any burning, as long I as properly applied it to all exposed skin. At the end of a day's Cambodian cycling it was necessary to apply anti-mossie lotion because we were in a high-risk zone. (Western Cambodia - in the news at the moment because they are concerned that the malaria parasite is becoming drug resistant). Wherever there was even the slightest sunburn the anti-mossie lotion stung- so I became very careful at applying the sun-tan lotion each morning. But in England it is not so much of a problem and anyway the sky was quite cloudy - or so I thought!


After route 30 I generally take a short-cut onto Route 13 which goes North through the forest along some idyllic paths and tracks. Quite a lot of this area is used for military training purposes and so the countryside is unspoilt, but there are warnings about unexploded ordnance - a bit like cycling through Cambodia actually. I stopped a one sign to read about Thompson Common, part of Norfolk Wildlife Trust. I must have accidentally pressed the shutter button 'cos I did not intend to take this art shot of man and machine in racing harmony, since I was standing to one side of the bike at the time.


I assume that the presence of the Army training grounds has blocked off quite a few country roads in the area - this one led to an Army Camp Gate but the Rhododendrons looked striking peeping though the woodland. There roads were so little used that they had grass growing up the middle.


As I did not want to back-track along that country road I checked my GPS and saw a footpath that would eventually get to another road. As a normally law-abiding citizen I would not usually cycle on footpaths, but this one although it had a sign indicating footpath also had a no motor vehicles sign, implying that bicycles were allowed. I did get off at one point as two walkers were coming the other way, no dirty looks though only pleasant hellos. By this point the sky was clearing and the sun was shining brightly. Here you can see a few puffy clouds and very dry soil.


As I turned the corner along one lane I realised I must have taken a wrong path and ended up in Peru. We went there on a family holiday a few years ago and the phrase "alpacilicious" was created as the Alpaca steaks were quite tasty, we did not eat guinea pigs though, we tried bu they were off in the small restaurant in Cusco over looking the market square.


My lunch stop - nothing like warm jelly babies and lemon squash for lunch.


I rejoined part of the Pedder's Way, a long-distance footpath in these parts. This bit was a restricted road so it was perfectly reasonable to cycle along. I did not meet a soul on this one, it was an alternate route for the Pedder's way but it seems most people walk on the other alternative.


There is much more concern and quite rightly so for animal welfare and it is once again common to see pigs out in the open rather than being reared in factories and a good thing too. Although apparently here in the UK we forbid our farmers from certain "factory" methods but still allow meat from animals kept to those standards to be sold. An example of how Government does not always practice joined up thinking.


Eventually 4.30pm came around and I had to stop for my call. It was in the middle of nowhere along a no-through road - although I knew it was OK on a bike. There were fields all around and irrigation sprays pumping away as I took part in the call. Since there were quite a few people involved I muted my side unless I had to talk.

Here is a picture of one of my new sandals. They were very comfortable for walking on the sandy track in Thetford forest and for cycling in. They also seemed to allow a bit of foot-cooling breeze in as well. One problem I discovered when I got home was that I had neglected to put sun-tan lotion on my feet so that I had to very red stripy markings on my feet. At first I though I had been bitten by an insect but when I scratched it realised it was sunburn.


After the call I carried on the road which claimed to be a no-through road, this river is the reason, quite big but called the Little Ouse.


This is the "non-existent" bridge that cross the Little Ouse,. steep for the flatlands but no problem for motor vehicle of bicycle.


Then a quick scoot back through Ely onto the Sustrans Route 51 and on the way a quick stop to take a picture of this eyrar of Swans.


Apart from sun-burnt feet it was a beautiful day out and although I was a little weary I had no aches or pains from my shoulder after over 170Km/100miles and 7 hours in the saddle.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bank Holiday Monday - keep off the roads!

One of the advantages, or should that be disadvantages, of using Zoundry to create my posts off-line is that I tend to add more pictures. On reviewing the pictures I can easily remember how wonderful it looked but on looking at the posts they all to tend to look a little the same.

The weatherman here in the Flatlands of East Anglia got it wrong - showers, maybe even thunder storms were predicted. In the end the weather was gorgeous. Too nice to stay in and too nice to spend too much time cycling on the roads. I had a quick look at the map and then set of looking for interesting by-ways to cycle along.

Although there were closer grass lanes I cycled to Great Wilbraham and took a path that I first cycled along in '91 in the snow on my Diamondback Mountain Bike, only no snow this time - but I did take the same bike. Although the paths are clearly used, they are never very busy and given the dry weather we have had very easy to cycle along on my fatter tyred MTB


Although there are not very many signposts it is quite easy to follow as it is a path with hedgerows each side. At one point it crosses a road which heads off to 6 Mile Bottom. Being close to Newmarket there is a distinct Racing influence to the names.


After a bit of zig-zagging the path arrives at the A11 road which heads on up to Norwich. The road has been upgraded to a dual-carriageway since we first arrived in Cambridge. Fortunately when they increased the size of the road they built bridges for farmers and path users to cross by. Up on the A14 towards Kettering they seem not to have bothered and footpath users have to take their lives into their hands and run across the A14 which is also a dual-carriageway. In my mind that was an abuse of the rights of way and a clear demonstration of the perceived superiority of the motor traffic and sod everyone else.

The path in the picture was not the one I used, but I must try it out and see where it goes next time I am up that way.


Here is the bridge, I assume the blocks are to prevent Travellers from passing to set up their caravans on the land - or perhaps 4x4s from ripping up the paths. There was a recent article in the Cambridge Evening News about 4x4s ripping up the Roman Road (Cambridge to Balsham)


Not a lot of traffic but I assume it would get busier as people head home at the end of the three-day weekend.


The path then came out on a road - but conveniently carried on as a gravelled road. Looking back along the path from the road - more blocks and a no motor vehicles sign. This bit of the route required a bit of concentration as there were drainage ruts every now and then. They were not deep enough to be anything other than painful if you had not braced for the bump. (Remember only around 14 weeks since my collar bone was broken so it still jars a little.)


After crossing the road the path became a gravelled road, ultimately heading to a place called Westley Waterless.


At one point it was necessary to cross the Ipswich to Cambridge railway line. It is not a busy line - one train each way every hour I think and there is only a single track. I still kept an eye out for trains though. I saw one later on in my travels as it headed off to Newmarket Station.


After the Level Crossing the track became a road - but one with no traffic that day. When I got to Westley Waterless there were Oil Seed Rape fields still in "bloom", in most other places the flowers have gone over.


The village of Westley Waterless has its Sign. I could not readily find a link to more information on the village so here is one to their Church

DSC08054 ps.JPG

The road stopped at a T-junction but the path carried on. and again with a bit of zig-zagging I did not have to cycle for long on the roads.To the east of the Flatlands the countryside is more undulating and there are more bits of woodland around.


I am not sure why this signpost partially obscures the names - perhaps they think that we are due an invasion.


The previous path again had reached a road, as I cycled along it I noticed another interesting path towards the woodland - but another one for a future ride. I had decided to head for a by-way I had noticed on the map at Wood Ditton a short cycle ride up the road.


The path was a revelation, completely different to any of the other by-ways I had cycled on in the region. It opened out onto gently rolling hills and as you can see there was barely a cloud in the sky.


Look at this for a path to cycle along, tremendous views across towards Newmarket and no-one or vehicle in sight.


The path just carried on - I assume that it carries some traffic as it was in a very good state of repair - presumably farmers use it.


This was one of the fields alongside the path.


It just kept on going I think I had to cross one road - but not a hassle.


Eventually the track turned off - this is a view looking back long it.I had my GPS unit with me so knew that my path carried straight on, but whoever owns this beautiful bit of countryside had stuck up a Private sign to ensure now one erred.


The track became a mud track, but still very easy to cycle along on such a dry day.


It then passed a pine wood and turned into a grass track - there was a lovely smell of pine resin in the air. At the edge of the wood were signs reminding users of the track that the wood was private and part of the Stetchworth Estate.


All good things come to an end and the path reached one of the roads into Newmarket. It amazes me how dozy some drivers are, they pass me cycling with a small gap but carry on moving to the other side of the road once they are past me. I think that the ugly truth is that they do not notice cyclists until they are practically upon them and then swerve at the last moment. Not all drivers do some give plenty of clearance. The UK Highway code suggests when overtaking a bicycle you should leave as much room as if overtaking a car and has a picture that shows a car on the other side of the road as it passes a cyclist. Clearly most drivers have forgotten the highway code.

When I got to Newmarket I stopped for a drink (lemon squash) and then headed of to Exning and on to Landwade, that allowed me to take another by-way on through to Burwell, a path I had explored before. The fields were looking very dry and irrigation pipes had been laid.


Here are a whole bunch of thirsty looking potato plants.


The path from Landwade to Burwell was a more traditional narrow path with hedgerows each side. It was good to see some wildflowers - one of the dangers of farming mono-cultures is that seems to compromise the variety of plant life to be found.


Here is some clover - when I was a boy we used to pull out the flower bits and suck on the bottom for the sweetness. We didn't pick flowers from the middle of the path though - no telling how many dogs have been through.


After crossing the Burwell to Fordham road there was a more recently used farm track, which was easy to negotiate on my MTB. It would be a bit trickier when wet though.


Looking back I saw the one cloud in the sky so had to take a picture of it to prove that it was there.


I liked the way the lines of plants led the eye up to the sky - although I can't say it looks so striking in the photograph.


Here is the cloud from a different angle.


When I reached Burwell, a place I have often cycled though, as it is on Sustrans Route 51 up to Wicken Fen and Ely in one direction and Cambridge in the other I noticed this plaque. I wonder if Wise Woman was a euphemism for Witch? There were others along the road with snippets of local Burwell history


As I was on my MTB rather than follow the Sustrans Route I cycled around the back of Reach along another by-way and then took a short cut across to White Fen using this by-way. It appears to have been smoothed over - the loose soil was tricky in places.


All in all I cycled around 50Km/30 miles, although it seemed longer, mind you I did stop and take quite a few photographs. Of the route around 55% was on road and 45% on tracks and green roads and by-ways.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Almost Summer Cycling

Unusually for the UK, well the Flatlands of East Anglia anyway, we have had a holiday weekend where the weather has been pretty good, apart from the actual Bank Holiday Monday that is (thunderstorms predicted). You can't win them all, but no complaints from me. This weather certainly gets people out on their bikes. On my way through the Fens I was stopped by three guys heading back towards Cambridge on their bicycles. The lead guy stopped in the middle of the road (only a country lane) and held his hand up to ensure I got the message. They were probably either University Students or perhaps Language School Students. They had taken the opportunity to go out and explore on a lovely sunny day and were a little unsure how to get back to Cambridge. I pointed them in the right direction and wished them luck. The country lanes are not always that well sign-posted and in this particular case the best route required following the "dominant" road which was not obvious unless you went wrong and turned off it. All the roads round here are pretty bumpy, because as the Fen soil shrinks it warps the road surface.

When giving a presentation most people only remember, at best, three things you tell them. I know when I ask for directions, which is not often - real men don't huh :-), I find that I barely remember anything. So I focus on ensuring they get the next step - in this case I headed them off to Swaffham Prior - from there the signposts get better. There are some very scenic routes into Cambridge - but I got the sense they were tired and wanted some certainty.

As it was such a lovely day I went out in t-shirt, shorts and sandals on my MTB and stuck to as many tracks and by-ways as I could. On my road bikes I have switched to what are reckoned to be the best for puncture-proof cycling without sacrificing too much comfort or speed - Schwalbe Marathon Plus Kevlar HS348 tyres. Although I did get a puncture on my Longstaff the other day - a flint (small piece of stone) had gotten through. Mind you the tyre was reasonably worn. According to my notes - which are not perfect, it had done around 7,500Km/4,600miles, which is pretty good. It was looking worn though and since I hate getting punctures I have replaced it with a new tyre.

I have different tyres on my MTB and as I cycled into White Fen I picked up a puncture - although the tyres are quite knobbly the thickness of the rubber where there aren't any knobbles is not quite so thorn resistant. I have had loads of punctures, fast, slow, overnight and explosive over the years. The explosive one was when a bike rim had been worn very thin by the brakes and the metal shredded, which ripped the inner tube with quite a bang. (I knew it had worn the rim - but I was trying to squeeze a bit more life out of it - I ended up walking 4 miles whilst carrying the front of the bike.) This time it was a medium speed deflation and I decided to cycle on until I reached the picnic tables at the other end of the field. The handling of the bike generally gives the game away as it starts to go wobbly and despite years of puncture experience for some reason I convinced myself it was the rear tyre and stood up on the pedals to balance my weight over the front, which made it worse - yes it was the front tyre going down.

Fortunately my bikes all have quick release wheels and brakes that can be easily opened up and I whipped the wheel off, pulled out the inner tube and looked for the puncture by pumping up the inner tube and listening for the tell-tale "whistle". Then having located that a diligent search to find the corresponding place on the tyre to make sure I don't fix the tube just to get another puncture. In this case it was a thorn which took a bit of removal as it was difficult to grasp. You end up pushing it from the inside and pulling it from the outside. As you can see in the picture I had my rack-pack with various tools including patches so I patched the tube and popped it back in and back on the bike.


While sitting there I heard a cuckoo calling - not my first of the year - but the closest, each time I heard it I turned on my camera in order to record a sound clip but by the time it powered up and I zoomed in - yes the cuckoo shut up. In the end I left the camera on and powered up and only needed to hit the record button. As the cuckoo seemed to be in some nearby trees I pointed the camera in their direction for good measure - but you cannot see the bird. This time around the sound was loud enough to be heard on the clip. (The last time the cuckoo was too far away and the clip just recorded wind noise - despite trying to process the wind out.)

Instead of riding on the roads there are quite a few tracks alongside the fields used by the farmers and despite it being a sunny day I saw a rainbow - caused by one of the irrigation sprays. As you can see there was barely a cloud in sight. The track had a few puddles though. The stuff growing in the field is turf - grass for gardeners to get that instant lawn look.


On my way back on this same track a farmer in his 4x4 was bumping along the other way, he'd probably been moving the sprays around to ensure even coverage, One thing I have found round here is that the farmers, whether in tractors of 4x4s tend to be extremely courteous, I cycled along one side of the track whilst he drove along the other and cheerily waved. The worst drivers tend to be white van drivers and young men who think that it is perfectly reasonable to whizz past a cyclist with inches to spare at 40MPH.

Today though there was not much traffic about - from the smells as I cycled through the villages most people were out barbecuing in the garden. I also saw a small Muntjac deer eating grass by the roadside, I am not sure who was the most startled - me or the deer.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cycling up the Sustrans 11 from Cambridge to Kings Lynn

I have quite a lot going on in life at the moment and felt the need to go for a longer ride, really to think thoughts but also to test my endurance in the saddle. I have cycled around 2000Km/1250miles since being give the OK after having my collar bone broken by an inattentive motorist. After a lay-off from cycling of six weeks I was surprisingly tender in a number of places at first but I have now gotten to the point where things have almost returned to pre-break levels. A pleasant run from Cambridge is via the Sustrans Route 11 up to King's Lynn, then depending upon timing, work and fitness levels I have the option of catching a train back to Cambridge or stations on the way.

In order to justify my cycling time I sometimes take some work with me and do it on the train. I have also been known to check the wind direction and either cycle to or from King's Lynn with the wind behind me! (Letting the train take the strain of heading into the wind).

The weather was pleasant there was some wind but less than 10miles per hour so I cycled up to Kings Lynn and depending upon how I felt would make a decision about how far to come back by train when I got there. One of the delights of the Sustrans' Routes is that they often follow little used roads and car-free tracks. Where the route gets to Ely it runs alongside the Great River Ouse with views across the city to the Cathedral. The cycle track is the brown strip to the left of the tree.


Here is the same aspect in close-up. You might also be able to see the Railway Station in front, to the left of the Cathedral.


Although I know Ely quite well and have cycled this way many times I normally do not take the Sustrans route out of the city. Sustrans pick picturesque routes on the whole, but they are not always even remotely direct. The truth is that I am not quite sure where it goes through Ely the signing is sometimes a little ambiguous. This time I did follow it but still got lost and took a route I knew to meet up with the actual route. My route was even more scenic than the Sustrans route. generally I cycle from Ely to Litteport by one of two routes and then cycle along a small road to Ten Mile Bank, which is the other side of the river to the A10 road (My alternate routes are actually both part of the Southern Loop of the Fens Cyclkeway. The route then joins with Sustrans 11 at Ten Mile Bank. However this time I followed route 11 from Pymoor up past Welney Wildlife Centre which has recently been expanded to make provision for even more cars. I am not sure quite how you square the circle of protecting wildlife whilst facilitating even more cars to pollute the environment - but there you go with, expensive trains and limited access by bus then the car is king at the moment. The community of Welney have their own website as well.

On reaching Ten Mile Bank (at around 64Km/40miles) it was time for a drink and some nourishment. My cycling snack of choice has to be Jelly Babies - tasty energy packed sweets. Here are a couple of Jelly Babies looking to escape their fate by stealing my bike. They did not make it!


The route into King's Lynn follows an off-road path for the last few kilometres/miles alongside the Great River Ouse as it passes through King's Lynn. On the other side of the path is an old industrial area that is being re-vamped. They are constructing some large buildings with what looks like cladding intended to look like windows - but is not. There will be some interesting reflections when they finish it though.


This is one of the buildings being constructed - you need to imagine the building as straight - it only looks bent because of the way the 4 pictures were stitched together. Pretty long though.


Once in King's Lynn there is a nice route along by the side of the river, you can see West Lynn across on the other bank.


Like most places that rely, to some degree, on tourism there are information panels around. Here is one in King's Lynn that details the history and describes some of the buildings.


This chap is Captain George Vancouver RN - who amongst other things explored and precisely charted much of the North American coastline from San Diego up to Anchorage Alaska. I presume that Vancouver is named after him. As it happens we holidayed in Canada last year in 2008 and visited Vancouver and also went up into Alaska. I cycled from Canada into Alaska into a place called Skagway during the trip - but on hired bikes. His connection with King's Lynn? He was born there in 1757.


The nautical history of King's Lynn as an important port is highlighted by these anchors laid out in the street.


I then caught the train from King's Lynn to Ely and cycled back from Ely. That cut some of the journey, but still allowed me to clock up a reasonable distance. The first time I did this run I had no idea quite what the deal was with taking my bike on the train. It turns out that unlike the train from Cambridge to London which does not allow bikes during rush hour (improbably long times in the morning and late afternoon) bikes were free and could go on any train. Trains run every hour and only once have I turned up just as a train was leaving. Most of the time I get there, buy some lunch and hop on the train eat my lunch and then it leaves. If you try this train the trick is to park your bike on the right hand side at one of the exit doors. All of the platforms until Cambridge are on the left, that way the bike does not get in the way of passengers getting on or off.

These pictures are actually taken a day later but are on the route from Ely to home. I could not resist taking a picture of my speedo showing 64,000Km - this speedo is used on my Longstaff and Marin which together have done 64,000Km/40,000miles since March 28th, 2003. I have clocked up additional miles on my MTB, Brompton and Tandem though.


This is arable country and as the Flatlands of East Anglia are relatively dry require quite a lot of irrigation. This was taken across from the Railway Station in Ely. The water comes from drainage ditches and you can see loads of it being pumped onto the land.


People often talk about the wide open skies of East Anglia - here is one such picture - I took it because of the interesting clouds.


So whilst not the longest cycle ride I have ever been on it was a great day out after the clavicle break - in the end I did around 130Km/80miles and spent around 5 hours in the saddle and according to my Garmin GPS expended 4,500kcal's. My shoulder, legs and bottom showed no signs of problems although I did notice a bit of chafing - not so bad it required cream though.