Friday, July 2, 2010

Another month - time to check out the Cambridge Guided Busway and the worst Byway prize goes to...

Another month has come around and although I did not plan it I ended up cycling over a few bits of the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB) yesterday (actually on the 1st of July). My plan was to go and check out some of the byways/bridle-paths that lead off the CGB to see where they go and what they were like. Although my "review" was not exhaustive the prize for the worst of the tracks must go to the Over Bridleway - compared to the others it is atrocious, or maybe what a non-cyclist might think would be acceptable. More of that to come later. Here is the route I took, I started on the CGB on Milton Road before turning off and cycling around the back of the Cambridge Regional College (CRC) which joined up with the Mere Way Byway to pass under quite a large bridge carrying the A14. Looking at the map I could have carried on a little bit past the college and then straight onto the byway - it would have been slightly shorter. So for now I am not sure whether or how the byway is signed. The Mere way then heads North East before emerging onto Butt Lane. A country lane between Milton and Impington.

I thought with flowers this size this plant would be easy to identify, but I was wrong. I flipped through my Wild Flower book, checked out various wild flower websites. In the end I asked my wife, the gardener in the family - she immediately recognised it as a Hollyhock - not a wild flower at all.


This could well be self-seeded from a nearby garden - I was sure it was a type of poppy - but it took a while to find reference to it - Papaver laciniatum (or Papaver somniferum laciniatum group). They might also be called Peony Poppies.


This is where the byway (Mere Way) crosses Butt lane. Although most of the path from CRC is pretty good the exit near Butt Lane is a bit more overgrown - I got stung by a stingle on the way out. I also noticed a few scorched places along the path that looked as if they might have been the scenes of car "burn-outs".


I then cycled on through Impington and Histon towards Oakington. I passed the scene of my SMIDSY accident in February '09 last year - near the Tesco Express in Histon. (A car drove into me - Sorry Mate I didn't See You - broken collar bone - no damage to the bike apart from the minor scratches and bruises.) I then followed a byway past Meadow Farm towards Westwick. There is a magnificent line of Horse Chestnut Trees alongside the path - but I know they have been hit by the Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner infestation from previous years rides. This is a picture of one trees leaves - they look prematurely aged, as if Autumn is already upon the tree (1st July) there is very little green area left and so I presume that tree struggles to photosynthesise and so harness the energy it requires.


This is the line of trees - or part of it. From a distance it does not look too bad - but when you are close up you realise how badly infested each tree is.


Already there are two "skeletons" where I presume trees have succumbed to the infestation. Conker trees are one of the trees of my childhood. Collecting conkers and playing conkers was a regular seasonal event. We all used to experiment with methods for toughening up conkers such as baking them or soaking them in vinegar. One year I even replaced the internal conker material with lead - I was quickly found out though! Conker trees were also fun trees to climb. The limbs generally came low enough to start up the tree and they were usually big and sturdy. I did once fall out of a Conker tree when the branch under me snapped - you forget that with each passing year you get bigger and heavier. I fell into a bed of stinging nettles (stingles). I ran home and my mother put calamine lotion onto the stings - it wasn't until the next day I realised that I had also badly sprained my ankle in the fall as well.


After passing the Farm the track has a little kink before carrying on in the same direction. The CGB is quite close on the left. I guess it will be more noticeable when (if) there are buses running.

Histon to Oakington track.JPG

The route then passes through the meadow land of Westwick Hall - there were a load of sheep grazing in the field - they did not seem at all phased by my rattling along on my bicycle. I did slow down - but they seemed pretty calm. I passed some people walking a dog - they had wisely put the dog on a lead whilst passing through.

When I stopped to take this picture I looked above me and seemed to be surrounded by a swarm of flies - which then followed me as I cycled along the field. I had a "sun" hat on at which was pretty sweaty. I wondered if they would follow me for my entire journey, fortunately they stopped at the gate.


I turned left (in between Oakington and Westwick) towards Westwick and took the first byway that came along - at a place called Lamb's Cross. The track was called Rampton Drift and headed towards Rampton. There was a convenient information board at the start of the track with a map and some historical information.


I have cycled along Rampton Drift a few times - and probably taken a picture of this tree standing on its own in an adjacent field every time.


The track started as a mud track at the road end but after a while becomes a gravelly road.I generally cycle in one of the tyre tracks which avoids too much of the loose gravel. After a while the track reaches Cuckoo Bridge and becomes Cuckoo Lane where it then meets a "proper" road going straight on and with a left turn on another gravel track. This bit of track is a route through to Longstanton and crosses the CGB. So in my quest to check out the byways of the CGB I turned down it. The track is called Reynold's Drove - and looks like this.


Part of the way down Reynold's Drove, before reaching the CGB was a fairly new bridge (over Reynold's Ditch) with a gravel track - it looked as if it must lead somewhere so I took a picture to remind myself to have a look on the map. There is no obvious path marked on the map and the Google Earth pictures pre-date the building of the bridge. Perhaps it is a permissive path? From the Information Panel in a picture ealier in the post, it seems to join up with the Aldreth Causeway., or at least line up in that direction.


This is the point where the Byway meets the CGB - a proper crossing with ramps up to the concrete tracks - although there is no provision for crossing the tracks themselves with the exception of a bit of red paint. It would not be an easy place to cross with a pram or trailer bike for instance. There are no single plank bridges to cross though.


At this point I turned on to the CGB maintenance track/high quality cycle path, which has, in the main, bedded in quite nicely for a gravel track. As I came up to the point where the CGB crossed the B1050 between Longstanton and Willingham there was a rather optimistic sign - do they know that the CGB might not be ready until next year? Or are they just trying to keep cyclists and walkers of the concrete tracks? It looks as if there has been some trialling of motor vehicles driving off the maintenance track into the car park in circles though.


A picture of the CGB cycle way or should that be maintenance path or bridleway to be? The surface seems to be impacted gravel, with a loose covering of gravel on top. You can see how there are favoured parts of the track for cycling along. I assume that the two tracks get started by one of the maintenance vehicles. Which is why the two tracks appear quite close to each other. Cyclists will always try to follow the path of least resistance (which is why the majority use the concrete tracks). At the end of a day's work even what some might consider to be a small amount of extra friction from the road surface is felt directly by the cyclist. A loose gravel surface also has a longer stopping distance and can "grab" at the bike's wheels.

Cycling along the gravel free part is actually pretty good and under favourable conditions (a bit of a tailwind) you can easily bowl along at 20Mph (32k/hr) without too much difficulty. When you do though you will notice every bump in the surface - for example where tractor tyres have imprinted their tread patterns on the surface. Because it is the route of an old railway line there are no real hills - which also means the route lends itself to longer-distance commuter cycling.

The track at the St Ives end is still suffering as a result of the prolonged flooding. Loose gravel has been "dumped" onto the areas where the track was flooded - which makes it very unpredictable for cyclists and requires a lot of care.

At the other end the track it is also more difficult for cyclists as it is awaiting a tarmac surface to be laid down - between Cambridge and Longstanton. The surface is a rough surface with raised manhole covers and larger stones to wobble the unwary cyclist. The laying of the better surface is waiting for completion of the works by BAM Nuttall and then I believe a different (cheaper?) contractor will complete the tarmacking.

I have also noticed that the path is pitted around the Oakington section and that additional gravel has been laid. Hopefully the new gravel will settle into the pits and be compacted down (by the cyclists?). It is unpleasant and jarring on the hands though.


I did not take long to get from the Rampton byway to the Over bridleway. What a difference - a sign and a pile of gravel mark out this "high-quality" village connection. No signage to warn the oncoming busses, no wooden fencing or even red paint on the concrete tracks. How did this happen, or rather not happen


When the walker/cyclist/horse rider has stumbled across the concrete tracks there is a wooden plank to get across the ditch. I carried my bike across, but what would a horse-rider do. Is there an assumption that if you can walk this far then you ought to be able to "walk the plank"? I presume that because this was a bridleway that did not actually cross the CGB it could be disregarded. as I have mentioned before this does not appear as a right of way on the Streetmap 50K or 25K OS view (or Where's the path OS views). Mind you the footpath a little further up the track from Over to Swavesey is similarly poorly treated with "walk the plank" bridges and no red paint or wooden fencing. Is Over in the Cambridgeshire County Council bad books, have they done something that needs to be punished?


After walking the plank this is the bridleway towards the outskirts of Longstanton - quite frankly I think it is the worst bridleway surface of the tracks to/from the CGB along the entire track. It is difficult to cycle along because of the largish loose stone "gravel". This is compounded by the fact that there is an uphill slope. To add insult to injury you have to dog-leg right and back-track in the direction you have already come from if cycling from Cambridge to Over. I don't ride horses, but I have been pony trekking and can't imagine it being very nice for a horse either.


The bridleway then reaches the road a mile (1.6Km) from the centre of Over - where it has a fence and posts to mark it out. Strange - why was nothing built at the other end - in fact it would have been better to have saved money on this bit and spent a bit on the walk the plank bridge.


Just in case you are in any doubt - there are even reminders as to who can use the Bridleway and that it goes to the CGB - but no mention of the plank.


I then cycled back down the road and joined the Sustrans 51 route through Longstanton where I turned left at the Church instead of crossing over the road - the Sustrans 11 route) and cycled up past what is now the Oakington Immigration Removal centre and was once RAF Oakington and as you can see from the information plaque an area where there was a Medieval settlement. I for one like these information boards - they certainly add to my enjoyment when out cycle exploring. It would also be interesting if the board contain a few web-links pointing to sources for more information. This part of the byway from Longstanton to Rampton is called Rampton Road - but is a track, and turns into a single mud path in places. There are plans to build a new village/town? - Northstowe around here but give the economic situation who knows. There are plans for around 9,500 new homes and up to 24,000 people.


At this point I rejoined the CGB (the crossing is one I took a picture of earlier in the post when cycling from the Rampton direction. A little bit further down the CGB in the Cambridge direction and there is some tarmac and a "crossing" and "Cycle Dismount" signs on the other side of the tracks. This is I assume provision for the yet to be built new town of Northstowe. If I lived in Over I would be pretty annoyed to feel that existing inhabitants have to make do with third-rate facilities for getting onto the CGB when the un-built (and definitely uninhabited) "inhabitants" of Northstowe get a whole load of extra concrete and tarmac and signs and banking.

I can understand that this phantom spur was built now because it is cost-effective to put it in now rather than wait until the new town is built. Adding it later would probably also cause problems when the CGB is up and running - but to offer such poor facilities for Over is absolutely appalling. At a minimum better walking/cycling facilities from Over the the Park and Ride at Swavesey would surely be a better, greener way to encourage use of the CGB by commuters. Also an "off-road" route between Over and Swavesey would benefit school children in Over to wanting to cycle to school.


What amazes me is that you will find statements in pretty much every report to the cambridgeshire County Council mentioning the "high quality track alongside that is available for pedestrians and cyclists" and the "good public transport and cycle/foot links between St Ives, the intervening villages and Cambridge". Well in my mind the Over CGB route connections are simply not good enough. To the inhabitants of Over the repeated statements of "good ... links" are just hot-air made worse by the focus on the non-existent inhabitants of the non-existent Northstowe, apparently in preference to real people of Over.

For those that are counting on my way back down the track to Cambridge from Longstanton I passed 23 cyclists using the concrete tracks and 10 on the high-quality path. My GPS also started reporting the lap database was full - despite there being several hundred megabytes of space in memory.

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