Sunday, July 18, 2010

Here, there and... Oily Hall Farm, Reach Lode Bridge, Bouncing beetroots..

We've been having some windier weather in the Flatlands recently along with some occasional showers (and thunder and lightening) but if you blinked you would have missed it - unless you were out cycling. The ground has dried pretty quickly afterwards and it does not seem to have affected the various crops out in the field. So since it was Poet's day ("Push" off early tomorrow's Saturday) it would have been rude not to have popped out mid-afternoon to check out how the weather affected the crops. On my way out of Cambridge, initially following Sustrans 51, but then branching off along Wadloes Footpath towards Fen Ditton , it looked as if there had been a "green" autumn. This is Wadloes Footpath, which also allows bicycles, quite a few leaves have been blown of the trees,


The path connects with the High Street in Fen Ditton which then reaches a cross roads (High Street/Ditton lane/ Horningsea Road/ High Ditch Road). This main road (B1047) is actually quite an unpleasant and busy rat run, especially in the morning and evening rush hours. Further up the road towards Cambridge, where Sustrans 51 crosses the road on its way through to the Newmarket Road P &R there is a crossing. Mind you cars often nip through on a late orange and I think that it has one of the longest waits from button push to cross of any Pedestrian Crossing in Cambridge. The Fen Ditton crossroads is not much easier and during busier times of day I often use the nearby pedestrian crossing. Whilst sticking traffic lights at every junction is probably overkill this would seem to be a candidate for lights - or perhaps we should start using the 4-way stops idea that is common in the US (and Canada).Basically all vehicles have to stop, from whichever direction they arrive and then the first to stop has priority and then they go in turn.

The UK traffic system seems to have evolved from the principles of maximising traffic flow - so main roads (A-roads) have priority over minor roads (B or C-roads) -even in the way we refer to them. So a car pulling out from a small road has to wait for a space on the major road - regardless of how long he or she waits. The trouble is that this system is inherently unfair, why should the type of road you are on define your priority in terms of access to another road? The system has been patched up over the years with traffic lights actively controlling and allocating "priority" and roundabouts which help to interrupt traffic flows. However the underlying principle that the "main road" has priority still holds in many cases and seems to extend to "might is right", bigger vehicles have priority over smaller vehicles and cyclists seem to fall to the bottom of the stack.

I then headed out along Low Fen Drove Way, across the A14 where a field of peas seemed to be past their best. These were green the last time I was out this way and I assumed that they would be harvested and frozen to maximise their freshness. Except these seem to have gone brown.


A close-up, although I should have paid more attention to where the automatic focus was actually focusing on - I missed the pea pods to the right. However you get the picture. Perhaps these peas are being grown for seed? Or perhaps the economics did not work out or was it too dry too soon? I have found a Blog produced by a pea grower suggesting that it can pretty hard work when the peas change and are ready to be combined. A quick read of the Blog suggests that sometimes so many fields of peas ripen together that some (fields of peas) have to be left behind and are either used for seed or for feed - so it is not a disaster.


Carrying on around Low Fen Drove Way past the track of the dismantled railway is the recently flattened Byway - it is looking pretty good and the rain seems to have re-combined the dust so that the surface is not quite so difficult to cycle on. I have 25mm tyres which are about the minimum for cycling along this type of track. It does help that these tracks are looked after - both for the agricultural vehicles and the rest of us.


This time of year is when the you get these sticky burrs - Greater Burdock (Arctium lappa) - they can be a real pain for dogs (and their owners) - they also get caught up the clothes of passing cyclists as well. Their stickiness is because they have lots of tiny hooked spines which get caught up in clothes when you brush past them. This is their dispersal mechanism - animals help to spread the seeds, I guess they must naturally drop of at some stage otherwise there would be no dispersal.


This is not actually Low Fen Drove Way it is a farm track that runs alongside the byway. This last part of the byway, leading to Snout Corner seems to remain pretty rutted through out the year.


I then carried on towards the Horningsea road and up through Horningsea. What surprises me is that the shared-use path alongside the road does not seem to be formally in use. I assume quite a lot of money has been spent on the widening and surfacing - but there seems to be a delay in finishing off the job. Is there some issue with the path - are the foundations dodgy so it cannot be handed over? You would think that Council would be keen to see projects put into use as soon as possible - even if the full route is not complete this chunk could still be beneficial. Or is it wrong for tax-payers to benefit from their taxes?

After cycling through Horningsea I headed East along the Harcamlow Way and took a few pictures of the Allicky Farm buildings. It seems to be a common approach to use old ploughs/harrows as barriers, sometimes to fields and in this case the shed.


Instead of heading out towards White Fen I carried along Lug Fen Droveway following the road right, past Vicarage Farm. The farms around here seem to have been converted into Stables and you can sometimes see Polo being played in the fields. The road then reaches a T-junction - Mill Drove. The left direction is a by-way which stops at the Marina. I always find it rather odd when there are byways that stop and seem to go no-where. I would have thought that the ancient and well-used paths were functional and useful. In this case the byway stops at the River Cam - where it joins a footpath. So why would a byway turn into a footpath? Just up the river is Swaffham Lock and a byway running back down alongside Swaffham Bulbeck Lode. Should they have connected?

I turned right - which is shown as a road on the OS map for a short distance before turning into a footpath and passing Oily hall Farm. Although the farm seems to be a modern and large farm shed. At this point I obviously strapped my bicycle on my back. The OSM Cycle Map shows the route as a track (brown dotted line) which carries on until Commissioners' Drain. It would seem that the drain is an important source of irrigation water. At the bottom of the track alongside the Drain is a small brick building with an irrigation pump inside and there appear to be irrigation pipes buried into the ground providing a permanent irrigation system. Judging by the look of the building I don't think that it is used any more.


A security rake in place across a small concrete bridge over Commissioners' Drain.


Looking East along the Drain - it gives itself away with the lush growth along each bank.


This is a picture of the Oily Hall Farm building. To the right is the entrance for a footpath that goes diagonally across the field.


This is the view looking back West alongside Commissioners' Drain and the soon to be permissive bridleway that MikeC commented on. There were no signs up when I looked. At the end of the field there is a thin footbridge - which is the weak link in the chain. Ideally it would be upgraded allow a circular Bridleway route to be created for the benefit of horse riders and cyclists alike. But unsurprisingly such things cost money.


I "hiked" across the footbridge and rejoined the Lodes Way cycle path at White Fen where I cycled over to Swaffham Bulbeck Lode and then up the byway on the Eastern side of the Lode. This is not shown on the OSM cycle map, or rather a small bit of it is shown as a footpath - but on the OS map the track is shown as a byway and there are footpaths on either side of the Lode banking.

This is another byway that goes "nowhere", except in this case it does reach Swaffham Lock - shown here. Which has also had the attentions of BAM Nuttall. This picture is the "after" picture.


This is the before picture (20th April 2009). A metal fence has been put in along the edge of the "Lock" and the old wooden fence removed. This is not a lock that see a lot of use. I had a chat with a chap who looked as if he might be the local farmer. We both agreed that this seemed to have been a case of spending money for the sake of it. Apparently the Lock is not in use - and so does not get boaters coming on through very often. So all that has happened is one fence has been removed and a new one put in. Perhaps they should also put in some safety nets?

A view of the track as it approaches Swaffham Lock - with warning and apology signs in place. I wonder if they will put in fences along each path on top of the Lode.


Just after taking the picture back up the track I also took a picture of these leaning telegraph poles crossing the field.


I then headed back down the byway to "nowhere" and headed up towards Upware along Great Fen Drove. Yet another field has been harvested - this time it was beetroot that were growing.


How did I know that - well the beetroot tried to escape from the trailers whilst being transported. There were red blotches along the road all the way up past Upware. One thing I learnt - beetroot don't bounce very well. There were also more escapees on bends.


The occasional beetroot struck it lucky and landed on the grass verge - ready to make a getaway.


After cycling through Wicken and Wicken Fen and back along Sustrans 11 through Burwell I noticed that what was previously an overgrown bank had been flattened alongside Hythe Bridge - so I took a picture. I was curious to see where this might lead - a housing development or something else? A quick Google search did not thrown anything up although the caravan park nearby seems to have an application to convert from caravan standings to Log cabins in process.


As I was ambling around I cycled alongside Reach Lode on Straight Drove. Here is another almost finished, but not quite, piece of investment! Why do these things get nearly finished and then hang around. Or perhaps it was always intended to be an expensive rain shelter.


To make sure that you can't use it there are locked gates leading onto the track and a "Danger Keep Out" sign as well. Some soil seems to have been dumped into the field. I wonder whether this hard-standing will be left as a car parking space for visitors who can't get around too well. This is something I am in two minds about. On the one hand it would be good to encourage people to walk in the Fens, on the other hand I am not a fan of encouraging yet more cars. Perhaps the NT could have a summer bus (battery powered of course) doing round trips to and from their Visitor Centre in Wicken Fen. That might help to encourage visits whilst also earning a bit more money for the NT.

I know that the NT is not quite like local or national government - but I am a member and do feel "my taxes" have helped in the construction of the bridge and would like to see it in use.


The bridge in close-up. X marks the spot. The official opening is in September - or will it be delayed like the CGB.


Whilst looking for some information on the Web I came upon an interesting website - . I learnt that the path out of Wicken Fen along which Sustrans 51 runs is called Maltings Path and the challenges for horse riders. There is also some information on the bridge across Commissioners' Drain nearly Oily hall and that permission is being sought to build a replacement bridge.

Whilst on the subject there is also some concern that the NT's grazing of wild ponies and cattle along the fields around the Maltings path might serve to block access. The link is to a letter from a local mother. her son was intimidated by the presence of cattle across the path. In this case she rang the NT who sent someone to escort the boy through the cattle. The amusing thing about the letter is that it refers to "town people" who would not know how to get in touch with Wicken Fen. At first I thought it would be a reference to townies who might be scared of cattle. It is a reminder that it is not just townies who have lost their contact with the land and farming. When I was a boy growing up in the Mendips we would wander far and wide and cross many fields with cattle in them. Boys aren't that bothered about rights of way either. It was also very common to see cows being led along country roads for milking. I guess even villagers don't interact much with cattle in the arable Flatlands.

I have cycled along the Maltings Path through them on many occasions. If anything the Konik ponies are too domesticated and curious.

On the way back along Split Drove and then Headlake Drove I passed another field of beetroot - with the sun beaming down.


I could not make up my mind which picture to include in the Post so both got in. I prefer this one - but it has some lens splodges in it


Well I have to say that was a very pleasant cycle-amble - lovely weather - no thunder and lightening and not many cars around either.

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