Saturday, February 27, 2010

Cycling a large loop around Cambridge

Saturday started really nicely, having gotten the chores out of the way earlier in the day (a visit to the supermarket) my wife went out to the garden and I decided to cycle around Cambridge - a loop of around 30miles/50Km. The plan was to take a bunch of pictures on the way round, starting with these crocuses. In our garden the yellow ones are first up followed by the purple ones. You can see the odd purple splodge if you look closely.


I normally head out along Sustrans 51 under the A14 to Quy on through to Bottisham and then detour of Sustrans 51 through the Wilbrahams. For some reason I seem to have forgotten that I was planning on taking photographs along the route - it was such a lovely day with temperatures of 10C I forgot about the camera and just cycled. I then cycled through Fulbourn taking the Shelford Road up the only real hill of the ride (and there are many who would not really consider it a hill), a short 70m climb up edge of the Gog Magog Hills. Whilst I did not sprint up I can't say I really think of it as a climb. It does provide a good vantage point for Cambridge though. This picture is of the Chalk Pits over near Great Wilbraham, just off the A11. It is apparently a candidate for some form of waste disposal (Inert waste and Landfill) - but it is situated between two sensitive chalk aquifers and so care needs to be taken.


This Smock Windmill overlooking Fulbourn lies just off the Shelford Road on, not surprisingly, Windmill Hill and is known as Fulbourn Windmill, It was built in 1808, but left to decay in 1937 because of a lightening strike. As you can see it has subsequently been restored.


Looking further round is Fulbourn Hospital which at the time of its opening in 1858 was the County Pauper Lunatic Asylum. The buildings are typical of the time. I grew up near the Mendip Hospital in Wells, similarly a Victorian Mental Hospital. The Mendip Hospital has closed and the Fulbourn Hospital from a peak of 540 patients has been downsized with the main buildings now forming a business park. I do wonder what has happened to the patients - "care in the community" or down and out on the streets.


After the excitement of descending the Gog Magog hills and a maximum speed of around 30MPH/50Km/h my route took me along the strangely named Wort's Causeway - named after the benefactor Sir William Wort of St Catherine's College. If you follow the link there is a rather nice website I will have to read - cycle rides around the Cambridge and Ely area! I then ducked down the aptly named Red Cross Lane, which leads onto the Addenbrooke's Hospital Campus where I picked up the Sustrans 11 route off towards Saffron Walden. Mind you I was only planning on having a look around the recent Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB) works since they CGB will reach down to Addenbrookes and yet does not get much mention in the press. The map of the Busway shows a route from the City Centre to Addenbrooke's and Trumpington via the Railway Station. There is certainly a big bridge over the railway line near Addenbrooke's that has been build to allow the CGB traffic to cross the track. You can get to it from the Sustrans 11 route and the bridge is a road bridge with wide pavements and "segregated" cycling and walking parts on the pavement. The segregation is virtual as it is done by pavement colour. They also use the longitudinal concrete ridges on the cycle part of the path - I hate them especially when it is wet they make the bikes steering jink about unpredictably. On the pedestrian side the ridges are orthogonal and less disturbing to cycle on although bumpier. When you cycle you are taught to cycle across rail-tracks at right angles, not along then as it minimises the risk of the wheel getting caught up.

At this point in the ride I should have twigged that the weather was getting worse! There was rain in the air - you can even see that a splodge has gotten onto the lens of the camera.This seating area is on the other side of the bridge away from the hospital. It even has some parking for bicycles and seating.


Looking towards Trumpington - shared use path, with those horrible ridges set into the path.


Looking back at the new Medical Research Park being built alongside Addenbrooke's Hospital. These cranes are visible for miles (kilometres).


There is an odd path leading from the railway bridge, I am not sure where it will eventually lead to - perhaps alongside the railway line?


After a detour of Sustrans 11 I rejoined it along Long Road - pausing to take this picture of the CGB construction work. This part seems to be progressing more slowly to me - there was certainly a lot of work necessary up on Hills Road close to the railway station to provide a route for the CGB under Hills road alongside the railway track. On the right of the picture there is quite an encampment of workers - the track looks finished - but it has not gotten its recycled chewed up tyre infill yet.


At the point I cycled up to the Trumpington Road and headed off towards Cambridge on the shared-use pavement before cycling down through New Bit, alongside Coe Fen then onto the Fen Causeway before crossing the Lammas land onto the A603 before heading off down Grange Road, Herschel Road, Sylvester Road, Adams Road onto Stacey Lane - up past the Cavendish Laboratory. This is a path that goes up to Coton. Why no photographs you might ask. Well it started raining, harder and harder and then hail came down, harder and harder. Despite having waterproof gear on icy-cold water got inside my collar ran down inside my jacket into my gloves. At this point I was freezing and just wanted to get home. My hands were so cold that I got little spams of pain as I went over bumps. Alongside the Cam there were some boat races taking place and I found myself cycling against the tide of cyclists following their boats. It was great to hop into a hot bath when I got home, after first putting all my drenched clothes in the sink to drain.

When you chop up chillies and have slight abrasions on your hands it causes your hands to sting slightly for a while, despite any hand-washing you do. Well I got the same pain from having icy-cold water in my gloves and having to cycle for a while.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Dangerous activities, Dramatic skies and Deer

I was told that stress is caused by a bad situation that you cannot fix - where if something bad happens, but you can sort it then actually you lift your mood - no that is an over simplification but in the time I have been driving (cars and motorbikes), for me it has moved from a pleasurable activity through to a utilitarian activity. I drive to get somewhere nowadays, gone are the days when I would head up into the Mendips for a quick spin (drive) just for the fun of it. I guess that Road Rage happens when stress builds and the individual is incapable of "keeping a lid on it". The majority of people might feel angry but just move on, some people don't Normally you tend to hear about road rage in motorists - but the Cambridge Evening News reported "Road rage cyclist punches a hole in a car window and fled the scene bleeding". There are several strange things about the report - how on earth did the cyclist manage to punch a hole in a car window? I am not sure I could punch a hole in a car window - but it is bound to be something that'll sting in the morning. If you read the comments then some suggest that perhaps the handlebars were responsible and that there was provocation because the cars had crowded the bike off into the gutter. I will probably never know what lays behind this incident but it certainly highlights the car-cyclist divide when you read the comments. And therein lies the problem too much animosity. The Guardian's Bike Blog has some good advice for the road rage cyclist though - "don't get mad get even" - my paraphrase - the gist was to report the crime rather than exact you own justice.

Mind you the Guardian has an article that suggests that cycling puts you in a better mood than driving - "Two wheels good, Four wheels bad" - not that the Road Rage Cyclist would agree. I tend to agree though - today more than two factors were against me - wind and rain and cold - yet once I was out cycling it felt great.

Some of the blame must lie with the people who plan roads, I have highlighted this particular junction at Lode before. If a cyclist is riding on the road then the island in the middle of the road becomes a pinch point. I know form experience that many motorists are unable to judge what speed they are doing with respect to a bicycle and will quite happily swerve in front of a bicycle just as they both reach the island. The driver probably does not give it a though after all he pays road tax and has a right to the road unlike the cyclist! Meanwhile the cyclist consider how close he/she came to death or serious injury because a motorist could not be bothered to suffer a small delay. As you can see in the picture the rules of the road do not allow parking so rather than walk a short distance around the corner this van driver parks on the shared pedestrian/cycle path. After I took the picture he drove a short distance along the path and blocked it completely (it was closer to the island.)

A Blog I read regularly dwells on the poor lot of cyclists compared with our car-centric society: Crap Cycling and Walking in Waltham Forest features the issue of pinch points in today's post. I would like to know how many accidents occur precisely because the Islands have been created. Especially as according to the Daily Mail "1 in 20 drivers Twitter or use Facebook whilst driving". No wonder they don't see us poor cyclists - even when wearing fluorescent yellow clothing! Come to think about it - that van driver's employers are keen that he is seen when standing in the road - they have outfitted him with a fluorescent orange jacket. The BBC has reported on 2002 on "The great cycling gamble" - where one person (expert) commented that some traffic calming measures actually put cyclists in increased danger. So why I wonder do we keep using such measures. In fact they really don't help to keep the drivers calm either.


Thinking about the issue of cycling and how dangerous is it really the Times reports that some of the "rise in cyclist deaths" might be caused by more beginners taking to their bikes. Sounds worrying doesn't it. Perhaps we should ban beginners from the roads? If you look at the number of cyclist deaths in 2009 it is reported by RoSPA as 136. whereas in 2000 a BBC report suggested that "1,000 die from stair falls". Phew in the short term we probably ought to make it a legal requirement to wear a helmet when ascending or descending stairs and in the long term ban stairs completely.

Whilst I am having this rant - I noticed an article in the Guardian - "The UK spends "£500m on car advertising" - a pretty amazing amount that at the end of the day anyone who actually buys a car foots the bill for. I am sure it must be cost effective, otherwise why would the car manufacturers do it - but is does seem a bit like an armaments race - if you don't do it you lose, if you do it you hike the cost of the cars.I am wrong in thinking that is essentially wasted money. (Ignoring the Keynesian multiplier effect - the money might just be spent on something more appropriate for UK plc's long-term future.) What has happened by our seduction into a motoring lifestyle - we've all got fatter according to the BBC - oh yes TVs are to blame as well.

Mind you I think eating has got something to do with it - I am cycling for 2 - 2.5 hours a day 5 days a week but not getting any slimmer! Talking of cycling, it was around Wicken Fen again. The skies were nicely dramatic though - this is baker's Fen (again).


Baker's Fen with the sun in the picture as well. The bad news was that the wind was against me for the cycle ride back.


I did pass a few deer just on the way into Lode (the village) though.


TI was going to mend the puncture on my Marin when I got back - unfortunately the ride took longer because of the wind and... I couldn't be bothered - oh well there is always tomorrow.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Gadgets and a grey day - time for a bit of planning

The day started off less than promisingly - Microsoft had kindly delivered an overnight update - which had re-booted my machine. When I logged in Zoundry did not work - a missing file - which McAfee my virus checker seems to have removed without a trace. I had a Skype call at 9am and managed to get that all up and running and have some breakfast. Ready for a chat at 9am. The hour-long conversation was only interrupted once, my ADSL box decided to let go of the connection and needed to re-start. Fortunately it was up and running again pretty quickly. In the end I reloaded the Zoundry application, which restored the program and did not trample over the data - which is how I come to be writing this post.

Pretty soon it was time to cycle over to Reach for my re-scheduled meeting that fell foul of the ambiguities of the English language. When next Friday can sometimes be construed as in the week after next - trust me it can. I wanted to go a somewhat longer way although did not have time for a full run out if I was to get there on time. Unfortunately a mile/ few Kms out I punctured - a slow one - but definitely one that was going to go down all the way. It as a split decision on whether to return and pick up the car, return and pick up another bike or stop and fix the puncture. I would normally fix the puncture and yes I did have some patches and a pump with me, but did not want to arrive for lunch with muddy hands. I did not want to drive so I turned around and cycled home on the remains of the air in the tube. BY the end I was having to lean all of my weight to the front of the bike. So I switched from my general purpose Marin to my touring Longstaff and set off again.

A bike with drop handlebars is generally quicker and my Longstaff is certainly quicker than my Marin (which has quite an upright position) and so with a few shorter-cuts I was able to get a reasonable ride in and still get to the pub on time. The Fish and Chips were delicious - thank you Kevin. There was not time for too many photographs, but here is one showing how grey it was - warm mind up to 10C. On a grey day the chances of rain are quite high and it rained on my way back from lunch not enough to justify stopping to put my waterproof leggings on though.

This is the taken from White Fen looking at the entrance on the Lode side. It looks as if a bit of the fence has been borrowed - firewood? You can tell that there were wooden slats in place because of the wear patterns and nails on the upright posts.


When I got home I noticed that my Garmin GPS unit appeared to show a fairly full level of battery charge. Hum strange and thinking about it there had been no lower power warnings during the day. When I connected it up to my desktop computer to download the days ride there was no communication. After a bit of fiddling - plugging/unplugging I re-booted my computer which seemed to fix things. I must keep an eye on it to see if the false battery warning messages have gone away.

One think I have been perusing though is my Bike Events calendar of rides for 2010. They run a series of recreational and fund-raising cycle rides including the London to Cambridge ride, London to Oxford, Norwich 100, Bristol 100 etc. I enjoy looking through it and will put one or two in my diary and some years I also cycle on them as well. My experiences have been of well organised rides, well signed with appropriate rest points. Last year I rode the Norwich 100 for a second time (that is 100 miles there is also a 50mile run on the same day). I have also cycled the London to Cambridge ride which is usually very popular. This year I am thinking of riding on the Suffolk Coast ride, the longer one is only 60 miles but it would be an interesting bit of countryside to explore. I would also like to find an off-road route to cycle on this year somewhere not too far from Cambridge. Depending upon the dates I also plan on either the London to Cambridge or the Norwich 100 again. There is a good sense of camaraderie and there is always someone to chat to as you cycle along.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Muddy Roads make muddy bikes

In previous posts I have mentioned that Cambridge has (or will be) the recipient of some Cycling related grant money as a Cycling Town and that a program of various works has been planned and publicised by the City Council for comment. I recently visited one of the areas planned for improvement and on which the council was due to deliberate - Gilbert Road. That deliberation was yesterday (or thereabouts) unfortunately the plans have been put on hold because of complaints that this will take away on-road parking. (Despite the fact this is a road where the houses appear to have decent front gardens and driveways.) The Cambridge Evening news reported the meeting. I am concerned that "on hold" means that they will drag and then be quietly forgotten about - democracy in action eh. It turns out that although a majority of the residents on Gilbert Road were against it 92% of respondents who did not live in the street were for it. More surprisingly whilst one local school was for it, a nearby Primary School - Mayfield was against it as they were concerned that there would not be drop off points for for parents to leave and collect their children.

Another report on the BBC website noted that there is a rise in the number of death certificates citing the cause as obesity. All this at a time when concern is growing about the obesity time-bomb, people complain about the awful congestion in Cambridge and the fact that children do not get enough exercise. So what do we do - well we get very NiMBY-ish (Not In My Backyard) and want to hang onto our car-centric, way of life and fail to make any decision. Although it would be a pain to be without a car I almost look forward to the day when petrol gets really expensive again.

One thing about my cycle ride today- it was quite warm, around 8C or 9C I think and do you know what? As I was cycling my spirits were definitely lifted. It was an unexpected pleasure and almost seemed as if spring was on its way. In fact when I set out there were also puffy white clouds in a blue sky. This picture was taken of Bottisham Lode just of Lug Fen Droveway by Vicarage Farm. It is a no-through road, but I was going to take pictures of the well repaired banking - closer to Lode (the village) it has not been covered in grass - but in the end I took pictures of the clouds reflecting in the water. The trees look as if there is a strong prevailing wind bending them - but it is not something I have noticed before.


I am going to pop along Split Drove to check out how the new bridge construction is progressing every now and then. Another opportunity to take an HDR picture of the clouds above Commissioners' Drain.


This is the road down to the bridge site- Split Drove. They seem to have filled in the trenches dug at the corners, and I passed two vans and a lorry as I cycled down. You can see the site at the end of the road. Parts of the road have a topping of liquid peat mud though. I am looking forward to drier weather so that I can cycle on some of the bridleways and byways again. I don't mind a bit of mud but it is slow hard work cycling along a deeply rutted muddy path.


Whilst standing on Split Drove I noticed a digger in the distance on Swaffham Prior Fen working on a drainage ditch. I would imagine the wet weather has increased the importance of the ditch repair work. The village in the background is Reach - centred on slightly higher ground - seems sensible. The foreground is called Swaffham Prior Fen.


Whilst at Split Drove I also took a picture of one of the water control gates on Commisioners' Drain. Just behind it is the Great Drove road with a bridge over the drain.


The path alongside the Wicken Fen Reserve entrance is no so muddy I had to dab my feet down as I cycled along it. It is awful, I am surprised that the National Trust have allowed it to deteriorate so much. I appreciate that they probably focus on the bit of Wicken Fen that you pay to go in - but a lot of people go along here and I would imagine that some of them are National Trust Members - I am. I believe that you can't take dogs into the paying bit.


A view of Baker's Fen taken from alongside Monk's Lode with sun beams lighting up the water.


A new sign alongside the Sustrans 51 shared path on the Burwell side of Wicken Fen. The sign explains the NT strategy with the use of the Highland Cattle and Konik ponies as a way of keeping the "biomass" down and encouraging diversity. The grazing is low density with one animal per 2 hectares/5 acres.


On leaving Wicken Fen I noticed these trees being beamed up (by Scotty?).


My bike has been muddier than this - but considering I was cycling pretty much on roads and made up tracks - not pure mud, it got pretty dirty.


One last comment the National Trust have a vision for the area and is long-term use - this has created some division, so much so that there have been for and against petitions on the Number 10 website. At the time of writing the YES camp has 852 votes and the NO camp has 45 votes.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Books with Cycling in them

Yesterday was a non-cycling day and today I cycled to a lunchtime meeting and back the short way. The weather has been damp, I got wet coming back from lunch. But it was still great to be ale to get a few miles/kilometres, in fact around 9Km/5mile. As I was cycling back being nosey looking at some plumbing people looking at a manhole in someones drive I did thump into a pothole. Although there are definite steps being made to sort out the potholes after the hard winter it is an ongoing task. If anything the constant freeze-thaw is probably the worst weather in terms of road damage. If it can reduce mountains to rubble then what are a few roads? Fortunately there was no damage to my new wheels or me. It was a straight bit of road and I was in the middle of my lane, not where you expect potholes to crop up really.

DSC00222.JPG One of the ways I encourage myself to cycle is by reading about other people's adventures. I am not sure how much such books appeal to general readers - however I find them very interesting. It is fascinating to read about the adventures and motivations for such rides and it helps me consider where I might like to ride in the world. Although I am not planning a round the world trip any time soon, unlike Alastair Humphreys whose 46,000mile 4 year journey was sufficiently long to require not one but two books to chronicle. (Book 1 is Moods of future Joys and Book2 is Thunder and Sunshine.) These books are not a sequence of cycling travel events but rather give insight into Alastair's motivations and the uncertainties that must crop up in any adventure, but rarely get written about.

The adventure he writes about is certainly not one to be undertaken by the faint-hearted and the trials and tribulations leave the reader in no doubt that Alastair did not choose the easy route. He also left his girlfriend behind and could not even bring himself to ring her in the early stages of his journey for fear it would weaken his resolve.

If anything this book underplays the huge challenge Alastair set himself. For me I enjoyed his interaction with the various cultures around the world. I would have liked a bunch of pictures though. As a cyclist who takes pictures there are some days when you just want to get on and get the miles done, regretting only at the end of the day the lack of pictures to record what you have seen.

I had not realised that there were two books in the series and made sure I had the second one on order before getting too close to the end of the first book.

DSC00219.JPGAfter the adventures of a round the world cyclist I moved onto a more thoughtful book - Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne. His name is known to me because he was a co-founder of Talking Heads, an American rock band formed in 1974 with David as the front-man and songwriter. I saw the book reviewed - not sure where probably in one of the Sunday papers.

Apparently 20-odd years ago he started taking a folding bicycle along on tour with him and the bicycle-eye's view he got of the world encouraged him to do more. As you might imagine as a successful musician he has had the opportunity to travel to many cities of the world. So he combines his love of the freedom cycling bestows with an eclectic set of observations ranging from urban planning through to politics interspersed with tales of the people he interacts with.

One of the great things about the Internet world we live in is the "instant gratification". As I started writing this I thought - hum it would be interesting to listen to some Talking Heads to see what I remember, so courtesy of Spotify I am listening to "The Best of Talking Heads" . (In the mid-70s I was more into Led Zeppelin and The Who, mind you my tastes have become way more eclectic as time has passed. My most recent CD - Marina and the Diamonds!)

DSC00220.JPGThe last cycling related book I have read is Tea for Two by Polly Benge. This is a travelogue, personal diary and love story in one. The story starts with her boyfriend who is planning on returning to his home in New Zealand with a cycle tour in India on the way and asking her to go with him along with another friend. As a freelance dancer in her late twenties this represents a significant step on many levels for Polly. Can she cope with the cycling in a potentially dangerous part of India? what does it mean for her career? and perhaps most important of all what does it mean for her relationship?

I am not going to spoil the story but Polly's story is a candid insight into what makes her tick and the insights she has into her own foibles.

I also liked her well-written observations of being (and cycling) India, it brought back great memories of my time cycling in India. One of the common Indian mannerisms is the sideways movement/share of the head. Somehow or other this one gesture can be yes, no, maybe or even I don't know, just get out of my hair. The area they travelled in was more remote than my trip in India and so they were also sometimes given a Police Escort and stayed in Administration Bungalows. Like my son Polly did not have her brush with "Delhi belly" until the end of her trip - in fact she had the reverse problem. Come to think of it I did not suffer at all in that department when travelling in India (my son and I became pseudo vegetarians for or trip).

The other thing I liked about this book were the photographs, I am sure that it adds to the cost and complication of producing a book, but for this type of book I think they are absolutely necessary, after all a picture is worth a thousand words. Indeed the pictures also brought back memories of my journey in India.

If I had to pick a favourite then let me give you an insight into my reading habits. I normally read before I go to sleep, for a good book I also will read a bit in the morning before I get up and for a really good book I will also read it at other times of the day. Alastair's books were read before sleep and on waking up - not that I doubted that he would make it - rather to see what his travels would throw up next. I read David Byrne's book before sleep - I did enjoy it - but it was better to read in chapter size chunks, it required some thought to do justice to it. As for Polly's book that got read at night, in the morning and during the day. Why was it so compulsive, well partly to find out what happens in her life, but also her ability to bring to life the trials and tribulations and joys of her journey gave it a great tempo.

Of course the post would not be complete without a quick update on the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB). A report in the local newspapers - "Transport bosses take out loans to pay for guideway" suggests that the Cambridgeshire Country Council will borrow money to pay for the CGB works and then get some money back because of the cost over run. In fact the report suggest that the Council will borrow £51.2million this year and next and BAM Nuttall will be paid £161million (the original price was £116million) and that the Council will reclaim around £40million. (Other moneys including £92.5million are coming from the government and from planning gain contributions.)

Now I have not been involved in such large deals but have negotiated multi-million pound projects in the past - stage payments are a normal way for the "purchase" to ensure that the "contractor" is getting the job done and payments are not made unless a particular stage has been completed appropriately. I have never been in a situation where the full payment is made (including an over run cost) and then a chunk claimed back. Mind you my projects where not civil engineering projects.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cycling in Suffolk for a change

The weather is still very changeable, wintry one minute, sunny the next and yesterday, just as I was about to head out we had a huge hailstorm which meant two things; putting on my waterproof leggings and waiting for it to stop. Hail can be quite painful on a bike.

It was 3pm when I eventually set off and for a change I headed off to Suffolk out towards Haverhill. The route is slightly hillier than my Wicken Fen route - but the maximum height was only around 130m so most people would not consider it at all challenging from a climbing point of view. Having said that there is the psychological pressure that makes the hills seem steep until you get to them and find that they are relatively short hills and not very high. In fact nothing like climbing 2000m mountains in India.

The roads were also very quiet, which always makes cycling more pleasant. It is both more peaceful, fewer cars also mean safer as well. On most of the small roads pretty much all cars overtook me by passing completely on the other side of the road. When I returned to larger roads, although only B-roads, the cars tended to pass with less room and faster. It would seem that the slightly wider and straighter roads are either populated by drivers who are less considerate or the smaller roads influence a better driving style. I know which I prefer.

Although it had hailed the skies soon became brighter, but because I had set off late and I my route was slightly longer I did not stop very often to take pictures. In fact I stopped twice and although the sunset was pretty good it had quickly gotten very much colder and I did not want to hang around.After cycling along Six Mile Bottom, which gets its name from its distance from Newmarket Racecourse and the fact that it is on valley. Not that you notice the valley when cycling through it. I then went a little bit down the London Road before turning off along towards Lark Hall and West Wratting. Where I noticed this house up for sale, I think. Although since there was no for sale sign then perhaps it was a house to the side. A quick look on the Cambridge Evening News Property website shows that it is priced - £625,000. If you check out the link they have not got a photograph of the house instead it is a water colour picture - which as you might imagine, in my mind, romanticises the house. Having said that obviously I thought it looked good enough to take a picture.

The picture is taken looking back, i was heading up the road to the highest point on the ride - around 130m. as you can see not really much of a hill.


After West Wratting I carried on to Withersfield (the link describes the church mainly.) and then onto Great Thurlow where I joined the B1061 for a few miles before reaching Great Bradley where I turned off to Cowlinge, The countryside and villages around this part of the world are delightful. Although some ire is caused by those that live in the villages and commute to Cambridge apparently. The church in Cowlinge caught my eye - St Margaret's of Antioch was first built over 650 years ago.


Here is a zoomed in view of the Church Tower.


I then went back to Newmarket and followed Sustrans 51 via Burwell back and despite having multiple layers of clothing my toes felt pretty numb by the time I got back.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Smelly Cyclists and Sensitive Software

The weather still continues to change on a daily basis - it is normally cold overnight and we often wake to frost and a sprinkling of snow and then the sun comes out. It does not actually get very warm though and as soon as the sun goes down it can feel very cold. So cold I generally wear too many layers of clothing and start sweating before I have left the house.

I would also not want to cycle behind myself, why, well I am afraid I tend to use the same cycling clothes each time I go out. At the moment this means: cycling boots, waterproof socks (sealskinz), padded Lycra cycling shorts, long-legged bib tights, thin shirt, thicker long sleeved shirt, fleece top, fluorescent yellow jacket (waterproof), buff round my neck, headband, fluorescent yellow hat, inner gloves and fluorescent yellow over gloves. If it is raining or snowing I also wear a pair of waterproof leggings. This is plenty warm enough when if it is a few degrees above freezing, but after dark and in the wind my feet tend to get quite cold.

The problem is that I tend to wear the same gear for a few weeks - only when cycling of course. Why? well I don't have loads of cold weather cycling gear 'cos it is not really that cold here in the flatlands of England so if it were to get washed after one run I would find myself running out of cycle gear. So once you decide to wear it more than once then you have set the precedent and can wear the same gear time after time... I do always have a shower or bath after cycling - you have to when wearing whiffy clothing. So you have been warned - if you follow me too closely.

I did have to use a different pair of "cycling tights" though. The pair I had been using, which were probably 10 years old finally wore through in the saddle area! Actually rather than a slight hole they had ripped apart and so had to go. I have worn them more this winter than in the previous ten years put together I think. I make no apologies for the Lycra though - it is very comfortable to cycle in and with attention to layering is warm as well. Mind you if I were going to a meeting then I would wear normal clothes and cycle more slowly.

When I came to write this post I had another problem. I use McAfee Anti-virus software to help keep my computers safe from infection. I used to use Symantec but after several problems on a few computers I ran a trial of McAfee and found that it seemed not to slow my computer down as much as the Symantec software. It has also been much easier to maintain. I am the sys admin in my family and keep the family laptops going. I have run McAfee for a few years and have been quite happy. One problem I have had in the past is you get a false-positive from the checker. Essentially this means that the Checker recognises a perfectly safe file as being infected and so quarantines it (moves it into a directory where it cannot be used). This happened to me on Saturday - one of the files used by Zoundry my off-line Blog editor was detected as being infected and sent to Coventry, sorry Quarantine. This meant that Zoundry would no longer work.

I submitted the file to McAfee, after some searching to find out what to do. After 24 hours I got an email saying the file was clean. Hum I knew that, I wanted them to stop it being flagged as being infected and moved. McAfee have a CHAT facility where you get to use IM to work with one of their support "experts". The first complication was that their Website was running like a drain (technical term for very slow). I left it and returned after a few hours. When using chrome as my web browser if failed to do anything so I switched to Internet Explorer 8. (I don't normally use IE8 because it too seems to have drain-like properties compared with Chrome). This time software down-loaded, starting installing and then crashed.. At this point I filled in an email form, feeling rather exasperated complaining that CHAT did not appear to work.

I tried CHAT again and as is the nature of software of a certain quality it worked. At this point there were only two people in the queue (line) ahead of me. After a short wait my turn. When you invoke CHAT you have to provide a description of the problem, when the CHAT window opened the first question is what is the problem. I answered and the Support person hung up - or at least that is what seems to have happened - maybe a network problem? I tried again, waited again and got through. Re-typed my problem again (twice) answered a few questions - fortunately none of the please re-boot facility. The answer - contact another part of McAfee!!!!!!! So I did.

To be fair - they always sent acknowledgement email of the problems and CHAT did connect me with a real person, (at least that is what I think) who was very polite. But it felt as if they are working from a list of questions and did not really have the experience to help me? This morning I also got a follow up email to mine complaining that CHAT did not work. Again it was very polite, but listed 17 questions, some with multiple parts, many irrelevant to the actual problem I had - but trying to create a thorough checklist I suppose. In the end I have disabled the Virus Checking and put the file back into the appropriate Zoundry directory in order to write this post.

So on with the Post - I mentioned having a chat (not software support but real) with the guy repairing the Lode banking around the Fens - here is his digger - you can see just how muddy and slippery the top of the bank - even with a digger.


A bit of bank repair he did earlier by the old bridge..


Although it was sunny there were also quite a lot of clouds about and many of the fields were water-logged- we have had quite a bit of rain recently - at least for these parts of the UK.


Ely Cathedral lit by the winter sun taken from the edge of Wicken Fen village. It is around 8 miles/12Km away as the crow flies.


Looking back along the Sustrans 51 route on the outskirts of Wicken Fen Reserve - blue skies and soggy fields. They have also cleared all the bushes away from near the path. I wonder if it is to stop the ponies from congregating around the path. The path into the Reserve from the village end is getting worse and worse. It is very slippery and causing problems for walkers and cyclists alike. As I was going through I was so busy concentrating on picking a route through that I almost failed to see someone picking a walking route on one side of the path and their dog picking a path on the other side of the path, connected by a lead. Nothing untoward happened though I was going pretty slowly and the dog did not mind crossing the mud.


This picture is taken at the swing gate keeping the ponies in, but allowing walkers and cyclists out. I took it because of the unusual shaped cloud - but on looking at it on my computer the fence looked quite interesting.


I also cycled up Harrison's Drove a pretty grotty bit of tarmac where people walk their dogs when it is very muddy. It is quite a good spot for bird watchers as their are hides along the path (just off actually). The fields all around are very wet.


On the way back I thought I would get a few pictures from Tubney Fen - the National Trust have put in a lot of provision for visitors, I appreciate the cycling facilities, but they also have quite a lot of places for bird watchers. This picture is taken from the newly built hide at Tubney Fen - blue skies again.


Looking at the sun setting from Tubney Fen


Here is the Tubney Fen hide - a pretty substantive building with different height benches - family friendly. This picture shows HDR photography in action. Normally the camera would not be able to take a picture showing the interior and exterior quite so clearly. At this point I also altered the settings on my camera - not deliberately though. I altered the white balance - a control that the camera uses to asses what overall colour the picture should have. This is important because daylight is different from fluorescent light or incandescent light. Our brains automatically adjust for this but pictures don't. I had to play with the colour balance of the rest of the pictures so they looked passable.


I also popped up Split Drove to Reach lode to check out the new bridge works (as part of Connect 2). The challenge is getting the vehicles in along the farm tracks. They are re-directing the footpath for a brief time.


On top of the bank alongside Reach Lode Fen - there will be a bridge across here soon!


Looking back down Reach Lode towards Reach.


The site "camp".


On my way back through Burwell I must have switched to stealth mode. As I was cycling along the road , fluorescent yellow hat, gloves and jacket and front light a car driver (a she!) looked directly at me and the pulled out in front of me. Two possible reasons - cars have more entitlement to the road or she failed to assess my speed. I think it was the latter reason - although there are times when the first reason is more likely.

On my way back from Lode to Cambridge as I approached a junction a car behind me pulled alongside me and since there was not room for it to overtake me pushed me to the side of the road foiling my turn. Why - well cyclists are second class citizens. (A he this time!)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Droves, Lodes, Pubs and the CGB

For a variety of reasons I did not go out on my bike yesterday, it was cold and rainy being the main ones. I do find it harder when the weather is not so good. I can take one element of bad weather but add two together and it becomes much more difficult. So windy and wet, wind and snow or the combination I dislike the most, cold and wet, all put me off.

I had another incentive today, I had a lunchtime meeting at the Dyke's End Pub in Reach - one of my favourite pubs for lunch in the area - delicious food, home brewed beer and a fire. There is nothing else like it to look forward at the end of a cycle ride in the freezing fens. Actually in a blazing sunny climate cycling on dry, dusty roads an ice-cold beer is also something to look forward to.

I also took the longer route which took me past Headlake Drove as I cycled on to Upware. This time I stopped to take a picture of the sign that heralds the start of the Connect 2 bridge over Reach Lode. An interesting coincidence is that the contractor appears to be BAM Nuttall who are also the contractors building the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB). The CGB seems to be quite a topic for the local paper - "Bus slogan drives home anger over guideway delays". One of the two local companies who will run services over the CGB have put a slogan on the side of some of their buses "Will I be on the busway soon? They invested £3 million in new buses which at one point might have been running last Summer. The article does also mention the fact that no-one seems to be able to name the date - I winder why?

The road in the picture is Headlake Drove which will be one of the very quiet roads that cyclists will get to cycle down when the route is complete. You have to be a bit careful at the moment - the combination of peaty soils, decomposing leaves and recent rain have left the road quite slippery.


If you carry on along Headlake Drove you come to Split Drove where contractors have already been at work. Around a couple of bends some trenches have been dug - I wonder if they are to strengthen the road for the passage of heavy trucks carrying bridge bits? Or at least to ensure long articulated trucks can navigate the road. The road (Split Drove) ends where you can see the bushes to the right, which is where there appears to be a base camp for the Bridge work. (I spotted an office and digger and van - although they might be the archaeological investigators.)


In the opposite direction along Commissioners' Drain the clouds were quite dramatic - in fact there were beams of light shining down from them - what my son used to call miracles when he was a little boy. The HDR techniques has over-dramatised the picture - but in a good way I think.


When I got to Reach I was a little concerned that my lunch meeting was at 12.00 rather than the 12.30 time I arrived so I checked my email and left a message. Whilst waiting for a response I cycled around Reach and took this picture of a boat moored on Catch Water Drain - not a bad little backwater to live by.


It turns out that the date for the lunch was the subject of a misunderstanding - the English language can be quite ambiguous sometimes. It was a confusion about what next week meant. Still it was a good opportunity to take a picture of the pub - the Dyke's End - the picture is even more over processed using the HDR program - it almost looks autumnal.


On the way back to Cambridge via White Fen the chap doing the Lode repair work was working by the side of his digger. This picture was taken earlier. With all the recent rain the top of the banking was churned to mud and so too dangerous to work on. It turns out that he has been doing quite a lot of the Lode work around here and has tickets to drive 14 different types of digger and has a lot of experience - but pretty much after these works are finished he will be retiring although not totally from choice. Sometimes expediency wins out over experience.


After my thoughts on the enmity between motorists and cyclists I saw this piece on "5 million death trap cars on the road". I know that this is slightly over-sensationalised but it does not give me much confidence as a cyclist sharing the roads with those death traps.