Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pushing those Pedals to Prickwillow and back - with a bit of Conspiracy Theory thrown in!

Once again I find that I am getting behind on my Posts - this is Saturday's cycle ride. I generally try to go out for at least one ride each week to explore an area that I have not been before. Despite the fact I have been living in the area for over twenty years and cycling seriously (for me) for 15 years I still find there are loads of places I have not cycled. When I say explore I don't mean cities and main roads, I like to explore the country lanes, byways and bridleways and there are many of those. mind you not all that easy to navigate on a bicycle. I generally use my hybrid Marin San Anselmo bike with 25mm Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres. My bike is a few years old, the on in the link is the modern version. I mention the tyres because they are pretty standard tough road tyres, not mountain bike tyres to give an indication that I expect the tracks to be reasonably passable.

Saturday tends to be a good day for a longish ride as I can set off around noon and then do not need to be home for 5 or 6 hours. This give me plenty of scope for a bit of exploration. Although this particular route is one I have ridden before - so bang goes the theory about Saturday being a day for exploring. The reasons for choosing this route were that I had not been out this way for a while and it is fairly easy to navigate - except for the bit that isn't and the bit where my GPS packs up!

Here is the route - straight out of town on Sustrans 51, then turn left at Burwell and take the Sustrans 11 route to Ely. Then the creative bit - head to Prickwillow instead of Kings Lynn (which is where Sustrans 11 goes) and then although not marked as a right of way there is a farm track alongside the River Lark that you can follow South to a place called West Row and then back East towards Fordham before rejoining Sustrans 51 at Burwell. It is a flat route and most of the tracks are pretty good - no deeply rutted mud tracks, except for the last little bit into Burwell. So if it is not windy it can be quite a quick route.

I do not generally find myself taking many pictures along roads I cycle along frequently (Sustrans 51, Sustrans 11) unless there is a difference - in Swaffham Bulbeck there were some tents peeping above the hill - called Windmill Hill - although there is not a windmill there now.


The next village along I stopped again - some nice colours in the vegetation behind the Swaffham Prior village sign. Swaffham Prior has two villages and two churches and yet is a small village (and a water tower - one windmill seems to be missing from the sign).


On my way round the back of Burwell a quick stop again - I have been taking pictures of this field on Weir's Drove during the hay-making - which has now been completed.


In the same spot I stopped to take the hay field there was some White Dead Nettle (Lamium album) peeping out of the verge. It looks like a stinging nettle, except it has larger white flowers and does not sting - which is why it is called "dead".


Something I have not noticed before is that using Streetmap to look at the Sustrans 11 route near Barway on some scales it appears as a Sustrans route and on the 25K it does not. It is not a right of way - but a permissive route which has been negotiated by Sustrans I assume. It is a pretty good way to get to Ely by bicycle though. This is Soham Lode with some repair work taking place. I took the picture from Lode End Bridge.


From the same vantage-point a view across the fields towards Ely - with Ely Cathedral in the distance.


Same position - this time looking West (ish) along the River Great Ouse as small boat comes into view around the bends in the river.


Yes - same position (obviously looking in different directions), I am not sure if this is Thetford Fen Pumping Station or just part of the Lock system connecting Soham Fen to the River great Ouse.


(SP) with the growing season upon us the farmers cannot afford to let their crops go without water - a good job there is a lot of water being drained from around here really. (Not a coincidence I think,) The blue box on the left is the diesel-powered pump with the hose reel on the right. The irrigation unit can be winched along automatically - I think - I have not hung around for long to watch.


The same direction, but this time a slightly wider angle to include the Sustrans 11 signs in the foreground. The cycle track is down the slight hill nearer the sign, but a track rises up to the Pumping Station.


A little but further along (yes I have actually moved along a bit) yet more irrigation taking place. I think the reel draws in the hose and so pulls the irrigation unit along.


Once I reached the end of the cycle track and joined the A142 I went pretty much straight across along Queen Adelaide Way. depending upon the time of day you hit this road it can take a while to cross - be patient after a while cars will stop for you. This is a view looking back Queen Adelaide Way to the silhouette of the Cathedral. It reminds me of a medieval castle.


The road, QAW, passed under one of the many railway lines around here before turning right onto the Prickwillow Road where the road crosses a level crossing at an angle -be careful - I always turn slightly to increase the angle that my wheels meet the tracks - it does mean that you tend to move towards the middle of the road though. In Prickwillow you can see the Drainage Engine Museum just before crossing the River Lark. Then you take the next right alongside the River lark - it is marked as a road - Lark Bank and has a tarmac surface for part of the way.


After a while the tarmac surface becomes a gravel road - and this is the bit I am not sure about in terms of right of way. It is fine for cycling along - just not very fast. I have not met many vehicles along this track in the times I have cycled along it.

One of the things that mazes me is how clear of weeds most of the fields are - it shows a dedication to the use of the right weed-killers I guess. However every now and then I do pass fields with weeds in them - like this field with a sprinkling of poppies - perhaps it was a bit windy when the field was sprayed or the farmer's mind was wandering and he missed a bit.


I thought this was an old farm building - but am not sure on looking at the photograph now.


I have no idea what the presence of the poppies does for the crops - presumably the plants compete for nutrition and it gets in the harvest? It looks nice though!


Now this looks like a flower that should be easy to identify - well not for me - some sort of Bellflower perhaps? For now I will call it Creeping Bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) which looks the closest - this precise variety is not in my Collins Guide to British Wildflowers unless Campanula rapunculus counts - no a quick check of Wikipedia - the two are different.


A bit further along the track alongside the River Lark - it is a pretty reasonable gravel track, although the sand was a bit "sucky" here.


How about this for a desirable 4-bed residence? On the other side of the track a Planning Application has been pinned to a post. An interesting location - I wonder if the River Lark bursts it banks very often? A quick check of the Web shows that there have been flood warnings associated with the river, but I did not check where. The top plaque indicated the building was built in 1944 by the Mildenhall Drainage Board, I can't quite read the plaque underneath.


Just after passing the old pumping station I took a gravel farm track off to the left. You pass a farm and a house, I think. There were some people about saying goodbye to some people in a car - they nodded pleasantly as I cycled by - no irate farmers here.

At this point the route is fairly close to RAF Mildenhall, currently playing host to the USAAF. It is not unusual to see fighters and fuel tankers (of the aeroplane kind) flying around. In fact they used to host a fantastic Air Show each year - you could use US dollars to buy things such as burgers and cold drinks during the show - but the show was cancelled some years ago for operational reasons. Concorde flew in one year, the passengers got off and watched the show and then flew off at the end. This plane seems to be civilian - extraordinary! The noise - what a rendition!


Like farmland all around here there are a few disused buildings.


This bit of the route has probably got the worst surface - it is bumpy rather than impassable though. The car in the distance was the one being "waved goodbye". Despite me stopping a couple of times it did not catch me up - the road surface is harder on cars than on bicycles. The track is Fodderfen Drove - and at around 0m above sea level - the fields are below sea level in places.


The track then joins with a road - Cook's Drove - ( a right turn) which passes the Mildenhall Stadium where you can go to watch Banger racing. You can see the Air Force base occasionally on the right hand side of the road with planes and hangars. On the left side of the road there is farmland with this unusual irrigating machine spraying away.


The road then gets to West Row a small village in Suffolk - where the road seems to wiggle around and I get confused as to what direction I should head in - well I did the last time I cycled through here and it happened again this time. Essentially I expected to head South before reaching the Freckenham Road and then turning West - back towards Cambridge. The problem is that as the road wiggles in West Row I get confused and expected to head East sooner. I did ask some guests who were leaving a large-age birthday celebration, but they weren't locals and were not sure.

So I has a quick scan using my GPS of the area. It only has a small screen and you either have to move the map around at a high resolution or zoom out and you can't see anything but major roads. Whilst doing this it went wrong. My GPS has only gone wrong in this way once before, it basically lost the map and that was, yes you've guessed it around here. I suppose there could be problems with interference form the powerful radar and radio signals that get generated by the airbase. Maybe they deliberately jam GPS trackers. the reality is that it was because I was trying to move the map around and there is a systematic problem with the software. Most people, including me, probably don't move the map around on the screen trying to find where to go - it isn't really suited to that type of operation. But when they do it causes some latent software bug to come out and bite you.

In my case I fixed it by turning it off and on again - the map was then restored, but I forgot to start the tracker, so that record is missing the last chunk of the journey.


Although it was not really windy, what wind there was seemed to be in my favour and the journey home was quite quick - back through Fordham and then before reaching Burwell I took a byway near Ness Farm which reaches North Road in Burwell where Sustrans 51 meets Sustrans 11 and the way I took back to Cambridge. I did have a car pull out in front of me in Burwell near the Co-op shop - it can be chaotic there sometimes.

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