Sunday, October 31, 2010

An Autumnal ride - the byways around Quy Lode and of course the Lodes Way

Friday 29th October: I am not quite so sure that "up North" - Durham - is quite so autumnally advanced as I thought. The flatlands are starting to look pretty colourful, probably something to do with a frosts we had last week perhaps. If you are interested the University (Cambridge that is) has a Weather Monitoring station which can be found at this link, they keep daily and monthly records. For October 2010 the minimum temperature was -0.4C on the 21st October at 6am.

As the leaves change very quickly at this time of year I thought I'd better go for a ride out round Snout corner to Horningsea and then back through to Lode and around the Lodes Way with the odd detour. It was a bit windy so taking multiple exposure pictures was tricky, for each picture taken the leaves move and so the whole thing looks like an blurred mess artistic, impressionist picture. Along High Ditch Road, between the old railway bridge and Black House there is a path of concrete alongside the road, which appears on the map to be a non-right of way path to the Newmarket Road P&R. There was one tree looking almost golden alongside the rest of the hedge, which was yet to turn though.


At this time of year Low Fen Drove Way, after the A14 bridge is rather trickier to negotiate, the potholes fill with water, so you can't tell which ones are ok to run through and which ones aren't. The path is also quite muddy as well so sudden turns are not advised as the front wheel can wash away from you. (Where you and the bike both want and expect to turn and yet the front wheel skids along straight and you fall off - sometimes.)

This track seems to dry quite quickly though (Low Fen Drove way) and there can't have been much wind recently as the leaves have dropped vertically from the branches and were just laying around the tree.


The fields alongside the track were almost looking Spring-like with shoots pushing up in rows.


The farm track, which turns off from Low Fen Drove Way near to Snout Corner, had a few puddles and the hedgerows still looked fairly green.


Yet another field looking more Springlike than Autumnal. This picture was taken in the same spot as the last one, but facing outwards. According to the map the trees are the Biggin Pin Plantation. Actually I think the Plantation may be a little more to the left of the picture.


Low Fen Drove Way emerges onto the Horningsea road opposite a private road - Biggin Lane, which takes you to Biggin Abbey which dates from the Late 14th Century with 17th Century additions and alterations. The avenue of trees has certainly synchronised the colour change though.


In fact, avenues of trees starts to become a bit of a theme of this Post. This is the route of the old railway Cambridge to Mildenhall Railway line just behind Anglesey Abbey, which I believe is a permissive Bridleway. This track had a few more puddles and slippery bits of mud on it.


The same track, taken from the Lode end, looking back towards the Quy direction.


Yet another picture taken from the same location, this time taken looking down towards Lode Mill, which is just to the left of shot. It was the Poplar trees turning that got my attention.


Heading along the Fen Road towards White Fen and the Lodes Way I stopped to admire the lode bank repair work or rather maintenance work. I seem to remember that there was work along Bottisham Lode last year - perhaps this is a continuation. I do wonder why this is done. I would have thought that the grass that grows on the top would help to bind the soil, leaving the soil exposed at this time of year would surely make it more prone to being washed away by the rain. A quick trawl of the Web threw up this Excel Spreadsheet from the Environment Agency showing that the work was critical (Monks Lode and Swaffham Lode also have work scheduled and perhaps done). Whoever did it did a neat job.


At this time of year it is common to see Baker's Fen (near Wicken Fen) starting to flood a little. I often take pictures when riding along NCN51. There is not much water yet. I guess that the NT can and do manage the water levels around here. The NCN51 path near where the new Windpump is being built is a bit of a mess at the moment, so be careful.


After a bumpy ride up Newnham Drove, for instead of hauling my bike over the footbridge at Burwell Lode I had detoured into Burwell and then back along the aforementioned bumpy road, this is what I saw. Some kind soul has cut a gap in the gate to make it easier for cyclists and pedestrians to get onto Lodes Way. So I will not have to squeeze though the gap any longer - this means I won't have to worry about eating too many mince pies over Christmas after all. Thank you - to who ever did it, a practical solution if I ever saw one.


MikeC mentioned in his comment that this side of the Fen along Lodes Way would become wetter as the NT manage the water levels. It would seem that some groundworks have taken place in preparation for the new water. A huge chunk has been scraped to reveal the soil.This NT Newsletter (pdf) discusses the original acquisition of Burwell Fen Farm (415 acres) and the plans for it.

Burwell Fen Panorama 2.jpg

One aspect of this ride I do like is that when heading back to Cambridge is that having made the loop there is often a sunset to look forward to at this time of year. The picture was taken from Lodes Way looking across Swaffham Prior Fen as the sun approaches the horizon.


I couldn't stop myself from taking at least one picture from the "new" Reach Lode Bridge - my excuse was the autumnal hedgerow along the underbank path.


Did I mention the sunset? - well here it is. Perhaps I should have waited for the sun to drop to the gap between the clouds and the horizon.


The same picture - but without the benefits of Photomatix to combine various exposures. I also passed a Pony and Trap on my way through to White Fen it had headlights and at first I though it was a slow car - normally they just blind poor cyclists. But the lights weren't bright enough and it wasn't tearing up the road. It was too dark to take a picture though.


On my way back along NCN51 just near the Missing Sock I passed the scene of an accident that had happened earlier that day and closed the road. The first I knew was when I read about on the web. Looking for that link also brought up another in virtually the same place. (Although the pub was called the Prince Albert then.)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Cambridge (mis)Guided Bus and other Halloween Stories

Thursday, 28th October: (and later news additions) This week is half-term and so things are a little bit topsy-turvy, well in terms of my routine anyway and the clocks change at the weekend. So cycling has taken a bit of a back seat, but I did pop down for the newspaper on my bike this morning. I must catch up on email and Blog comments though.

It does seem as if a lot of news has caught my eye - well judging from the open tabs on my Chrome browser anyway. The Cambridge misGuided Busway is of course a regular visitor to the news "pages", more regular a visitor than I am to the CGB it seems. It would seem that the "war of words" between the Contractors, BAM Nuttall and the Cambridgeshire County Council CCC is ripe for escalation. Chief Executive of BAM Nuttall, Steve fox has apparently said that "the busway could have been opened to buses in about October last year". He also goes on to state that the "reason the contract is running as late is due to other issues that relate to the detail of the contract" and that he "believes that CCC holds the responsibility and liability for".

I guess this was prompted by a report the day before in the Cambridge News - "Shortcut bid for guided bus 'unacceptable'" in which an email was accidentally sent from BAM Nuttall to the CCC in which BAM apparently discussed tactics to put pressure on the CCC. There is also mention of the car traps being a show stopper, which I assume is no longer a problem as it does not seem to get mentioned in recent CCC documents.

I wonder if we will ever get to know quite what has been going on? However in a Bus related piece of news it turns out that the CCC gets a payment of £1.50 per passenger for each bus that leaves one of the P&R sites and Stagecoach the rest. (Current ticket prices £2.30 or £2.60 if the ticket is bought on the bus.) The gist of the report is that "Park & Ride 'isn't fair on taxpayers'" as the CCC gets only £1.50 versus the amount received by the Bus Company. I suppose I was surprised how much goes to the council. In the end it all boils down to what you are trying to achieve and what the costs associated with the P&R Car Parks and the buses are, to know whether it makes sense or not. Perhaps Press Releases and statements should also be backed by more information?

Various of the places I visit on my travels have also appeared in the news for one reason or another. The smell at Hauxton that has arisen from the clean up of the former agrochemicals factory is 'Not a statutory nuisance' - it did smell the last time I went through there though. Also in an example of democracy in inaction "Villagers are barred from clean-up body" Apparently there is a panel with a membership made up of the potential developers of the site, council representatives and experts - but they will not let locals join the body. So while we have a Government interested in the "Big Society" it would appear that "that sort if thing isn't wanted in parochial matters thank you very much."

Whilst on matter of the land (and water) a Wind Farm in Linton has been turned down at a planning appeal. The plan submitted was for 8 Wind turbines between Linton and Great Chesterford very close to the farm road and bridleway I have cycled on a few times. it seems to me that we do not really have a lot of open land around so whilst it might look attractive from a developers point of view we should not really be trying to fill every last gap with a man-made development. Whilst I am in favour of alternate methods of power generation we should not be trading one form of pollution for another. Potatoes are in the news though - or rather the machines that are used - a potato riddler, when a man got his arm stuck in a potato machine in Aldreth. There seem to have been a number of similar accidents in the area - I guess it is the time of year for lifting and sorting potatoes.

Plans have been submitted for East Anglia's biggest solar energy farm near Wilburton. According to the report the development will cost £13m, occupy 35 acres and provide power for more than 1,2000 homes. Which they helpfully qualify as Wilburton, Aldreth and half of Haddenham. The other half of Haddenham will go back to using candles. The company behind this - Abbey Renewables is part of a local, private group that started trading and storing potatoes but has now branched out into Property development and the renewables Energy Sector.

It turns out that some of the fishermen I see when cycling along the River Cam and River Great Ouse might not be legit - "Four caught fishing illegally land penalty". It appears that you need a Rod Licence from the Environment Agency and for the Cam a Day Ticket of Permit from the Cambridge Fish Preservation and Angling Society. (There are special rules for Local Residents, within 15 miles of Cambridge City centre!) Mind you, the Cam waters are muddy apparently - "Ownership confusion muddies the Cam waters". which means that a legal loophole "allows shabby boats to moor free" between the Elizabeth Way bridge and the Stourbridge Common Cattle grid. The comments are the best bit though.

Helicopters, or rather the Cambridgeshire helicopters are also in the news with "Force helicopter set for the chop" due to plans to create a centralised National Air Police Service by 2012. Apparently the current Cambs Police Helicopter service costs £15m per year and the new system will be more cost-effective, although it does not say what it might cost. Co-incidentally the Cambridge Police helicopter has been busy in a "hunt for hooded robbers" who stole £5,000 of metal. It also seems that the Air ambulance changes are afoot. Anglia 2 - funded by the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA) will no longer use the Magpas Helimedix, a charity with around 50 doctors donating their time but instead contract them from a EMSC a private company. This seems rather strange as both EAAA and Magpas Helimedix are charities. The article mentions that Magpas has donated around £2m of doctors' services in a year - so it does look a bit like a "turf war" between two charities, with one charity dumping another - not very charitable if you ask me. MAGPAS also work with the Police Helicopter which can deploy at night.

It also seems that the new Hospital Relief Road from the M11 to Addenbrooke's Hospital has opened. although not all of it is open to general traffic, from Shelford Road to Addenbrookes is for traffic on hospital business only, but it will help by reducing congestion on the roads around it. Although already it has caused confusion with "no cycle" signs. The good news is that there are cycle lanes on the road, but some rather odd "no cycling" signs have been put up which almost look as if cyclists are banned from the cycle lanes. They are really intended to stop cyclists using the pavement - but unfortunately attention to detail does not always seem to be the watchword when facilities for cyclists are planned and built, despite the efforts of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. Apparently the Addenbrooke's Access road was more than a year behind schedule.

I should not be too negative though - there are also plans for a 60 acre country park to be called Trumpington Meadows and will include a cycle track between Hauxton and Trumpington. It is being funded through S106 money from a housing development (1200 dwellings).

And finally, I think it is my GOM status (Grumpy Old Man) but I do think that the roads are more dangerous, less courteous places to be. There have recently been a series of crashes in the area. A jogger was killed on Ten mile Bank, Littleport. (Which is shown on the Sustrans map of the area as the Fens Cycleway - Southern Loop (.doc). There were also accidents on the A14 (which I don't cycle along) and also on the A1303, where the NCN51 between Cambridge and Ely runs. And of course some road rage - "Wiper snapped in car attack"

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A daytrip to Durham ... but not by bicycle

Wednesday, 27th October: The last few days have been non-cycling days, in fact on Wednesday I didn't even manage to cycle down to the newsagent to buy a paper. Sometimes other things just have to take priority. At the moment my daughter is considering her options for further education, so she is checking out various Universities. She has a short-list based upon a number of factors, including the quality of the course and the sort of place she wants to live in. Some of the places she has visited on her own and some we have been with her. Durham is on the list and as this week is half-term she booked a tour of Durham University and so we had a day-trip to Durham and back to check it out.

We drove up as there were three of us although the train from Cambridge to Durham is actually pretty convenient. It takes around 3.5 to 4 hours with your choice of 1 to 3 changes en-route. The cost of the tickets is not quite so compelling, an off-peak return is not far off £290 for three people. We drove as it gave us more flexibility to look around once we were there. The road distance was around 440miles, return and the cost of diesel was around £90, which is not the fully amortised cost of running a car, but unfortunately once you have bought it you might as well use it. It was virtually Motorway or Dual carriageway all the way and there was only one patch of roadworks (where they were upgrading from dual-carriageway to Motorway) and one area of congestion, Cambridge to Huntingon.

As I mentioned the worst bit was on the A14 up to Huntingdon after that we joined the A1, the longest numbered road in the UK at 410miles. I have not actually driven up the road for quite a long time, (measured in years) and it as a lot better than I remembered it and indeed, than my Satnav "remembered" it. In fact the SatNav suggested taking the M1 which according to Google Maps would have added another 60miles to the round trip and taken longer (and hour on the round trip). I did of course ignore my Satnav and took the A1. It turned out that the map in my Satnav was under the impression that there were a few roundabouts on the way that weren't there anymore. (Once it reconciled itself to my chose route.)

We easily found where she needed to be and parked along a side road and went for a look around. Durham is quite a small place, with a population of 40,000 and is home to 15,000 students. (Although I am not clear where the 40,000 includes the student population or not.)

When I am on my own I tend to ramble around (in a cycling sort of way) and take pictures of things that catch my eye. I will move around to try to improve the picture and get rid of distractions. When I am with my wife and daughter I am outnumbered and so have to take my "pictures on the run". Which means I often get back thinking if only I'd moved a bit or taken the picture from a different vantage point.

As we walked along Church Street we passed a church, which was interesting because of the colour or the leaves of the trees. The day we drove up the skies were blue and it was sunny. What was most noticeable was as we got further north autumn was more advanced. This blaze of browny-orange caught my eye, set against the green around the trees. It is in the Graveyard of St Oswald's Parish Church. The link is not very interesting as the Website is currently being revised.


The same tree but taken after I had walked up the road a bit and then had to nip back into the Graveyard. If I had more time I would have wandered around even more. What I really mean is if I'd been on my own. As it was I had to run after my family, although the hill had slowed them down a bit.


In order to get up the hill to the Castle and Cathedral we had to cross the River Wear, which we did on the first bridge we came to - the Kingsgate Bridge, a fairly modern footbridge. When I use the term modern it is of course relative, the bridge was designed in 1963 and opened in 1966. Apparently during RAG Week in the '60s some students suspended a car beneath it. The bridge in the picture is also used as a footbridge although there was a dumper truck on it when we went past later in the day. It is the Elvet Bridge and was constructed in 1169. The river flows through 4 arches, but there are others, with 10 arches identified and perhaps another 4 hidden beneath the street..


Whilst taking the picture I noticed a couple out in a rowing boat below.


The view of the River, looking the other way from the bridge, the colour of the trees is still predominantly green although yellow patches are appearing.


At the time I took this picture of the Cathedral I really would have liked to see if I could get a better viewpoint. But, on seeing it on a larger screen it has come out better than I had expected. What I wanted to do was climb The Tower. There are three towers, actually, a central tower and two western towers. The central one is 218ft/66 m in height and the other two are 144ft/ 44m tall. The building looks remarkably crisp and modern, but dates from 1093-1133.


The last time I visited Durham, umpty years ago, was when I was being considered by Universities and went up for an interview - that was how it was done in those days. I think I stayed in the Castle and certainly travelled by train, they made me an offer, but I could and did refuse it, I went for somewhere more modern. The University has changed a great deal from those days and a significant building program is (and has been) taking place though. Durham Railway Station is quite small, but is a principal stop on the East Coast Main Line. The railway station and Viaduct date from 1857 and were not originally on the main line. The viaduct lies to the south of the station, so I must have travelled over it.


We went for a walk around the Market Place. It was a bit chaotic as cobbles in the street leading to the Market place were being renovated and chunks of the already narrow road were fenced off. I did have time to take a picture of this statue in the Market Place, it turned out to be the Marquess of Londonderry.


This was a quick picture on the move - just to remind myself what the Sustrans Route was that passes through Durham. It is the NCN 14, also part of the Three Rivers Cycle Route - 264Km/164 miles in length and covers a network of traffic-free railway paths. Now that sounds like some good cycling.


On the way back I took a picture of the Elvet bridge from the other side. You can see work is taking place on the bridge. I assume it is now only for pedestrians? There were so many people walking up and down the bridge I couldn't take multiple exposures, or rather I could but it would not have looked very good, with ghost people.


At the same time I took another picture of the Kingsgate Bridge off in the distance. Imagine slinging a car under there - the bridge does not look strong enough.


There was time for one last picture on the way back to the University,or at least the bit where my daughter needed to be for her tour. It is the Central Tower of the cathedral.


She really enjoyedher tour and the enthusiasm (and knowledge) of the people who gave it. Apparently Durham has Europe's worst Nightclub.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Tale of Two Rivers

Monday, 25th October: At this time of year, I try to take advantage of the fine weather to get in some cycling and the not so fine weather to get stuff done. So when Monday turned out to be sunny I thought I would get in a longer ride, but where? In the end I went for an old standby type of ride - up to Ely and back. as it was a Monday I thought I'd cycle up alongside the Cam on NCN11. That is the NCN11 to nowhere, sorry Waterbeach and then head up to Coveney along mainly country lanes before heading back to Ely and then taking the Lodes Way to Cambridge. As it turned out I did take a couple of detours, one a byway near Grunty Fen and the other around Ely. The route is shown below and here is the BRT link. It turned out to be a 75Km / 46mile ride in glorious sunshine, it was cold, but there was little wind and I did catch the sunset as I cycled back along the Lodes Way. There is not much climbing, even for Flatlanders, the two noticeable bits are up to Coveney and around Ely, they only reach 24m above sea level though and were over before they started.

Cambridge to Ely Loop 2Ant .jpg

Monday is a good day to cycle along NCN11 alongside the Cam, well better than the weekends anyway. It is a nice track but not too wide in places and understandably a popular route to walk. The only "hazard" comes from students providing coaching advice to rowers. They seem to ride along the track permanently looking over at the river shouting instructions, some even carry loudhailers to make themselves heard. Their single-minded focus on the rowing means they don't always notice cyclists coming the other way though.

There were a few sculls out taking advantage of both the sun and more importantly the absence of wind. I always use to find kayaking on a windy day a challenge. The boats look so flimsy you wonder where the buoyancy comes from, yep Archimedes wasn't wrong. I think I'll stick to cycling at least you can see where you are going without getting a crick in your neck. There is something slightly surreal though to be on a river like this passing through meadows with cows grazing.


I also took a few pictures of reflections in the water - something that works quite well on a still day.


I stopped to take picture of the A14 bridge over the Cam (apparently sometimes known as the Motorway Bridge or the Bovis Bridge). There is some work taking place on the bridge and the path detours slightly through the concrete girders. Metal plates have been laid down to provide a firm surface for walkers and cyclists. The orange barriers can be seen on the left of the bridge. As I took the picture a steam boat came into view. I think the number on the Bow is Q5843 or maybe Q3843, but I can't seem to track down any information. I should have taken a picture as it went by me, or perhaps just paid attention to what it was called. There is a lad on the left of the smokestack with his head in his hands looking pretty fed up though.

In case you were wondering and even if you weren't I passed 6 cyclists and 19 walkers on the Cam path, I also passed a bunch of people fishing, but they don't rate counting in my brain - sorry to all you fisher-people.


I heard helicopters a couple of times somewhere between Waterbeach and Cottenham. The first time there were two but I did not get a clear view. Although I could hear them for some time the hedgerows obscured my view. I assumed that they were probably military helicopters (flying in formation). The second time I heard the sound there were again two helicopters. I have no idea whether it was the same two going around or two new ones. They were some distance away but at maximum zoom this is what they looked like - Police helicopters, or at least they seem to have the distinctive yellow and blue look about them. The one difference is that these did not seem to have the distinctive yellow vertical tail fins. So perhaps they belonged to another Police Force. Well a quick look on this website shows that all UK Police Helicopters looks the same, well not quite but similar with some having yellow fins and some not. It turns out that ours (well Cambridgeshire Police) doesn't have a rotor, which is safer. If you want a closer look the Cambs Police have a very nice picture, where you can clearly see the yellow tail fins. Instead of a tail rotor a fan exhaust is directed out of slots on the tail boom.


I normally bypass Cottenham, or rather as much of the B1049 between Cottenham and Wilburton as I can, by heading up Long Drove. Long Drove runs in parallel to the B road and then rejoins it just before the River Great Ouse. The road up to Wilburton is not too bad, reasonably wide for a B road, it is quite fast though (for cars that is.)

The last time I looked at the area on the map I had noticed a byway out of Wilburton which I took this time around. It is called Hinton Way and is a track that seems to have provided a short-cut to the old Wilburton Railway Station on the Ely to St Ives railway line. (Which like quite a lot of village railway stations was not that conveniently sited for the villagers.)

Here is the track, in places quite muddy, rutted and slippery. With a following wind I ought to have been able to cycle along it without dabbing my feet - but I didn't, in fact I think I stopped three times. Nothing serious, I just found myself cycling in a deepening rut towards a puddle which I felt was best avoided.


At the point the track reaches the road is where the old railway line used to cross. It is not very visible, since it closed over 30 years ago and as the land is flat there are no cuttings or bridges to speak of. This track is what remains of the line in these parts. It heads (or rather headed) to the old Haddenham station before curving north to Sutton.


The mud of the byway curbed my enthusiasm for exploring and although there are a lot of byways in this part of the world I gave them a miss. I have followed a couple of byways from Witcham and then back-tracked in the past. What I really ought to do is bring my MTB up and some sarnies (and of course jelly babies) and explore the areas more thoroughly. I will wait until it is a bit drier as well.

I did take a slightly different route around Ely though which took me past Jubilees Gardens where an Eel Sculpture is to be found. It was created by artist Peter Baker currently exhibiting at the Phone Box Gallery, Prickwillow.


I followed a route along the side of the River Great Ouse through Ely, walking as appropriate. You can see how little wind there was from the stillness of the water. There are a lot of boats in the area and boat sheds and boats for hire.


This bridge is a railway bridge heading towards Ely Railway Station (which was not closed down by Beeching). I took this picture because I wanted a close-up of the bridge reflections in the water which because of the angle look more like the trunks of trees rather than the short, vertical bridge girders.


I then followed NCN11 alongside the River Great Ouse under the new railway bridge (the Newmarket Bridge according to the map) pausing briefly to take a picture of the graffiti.


The only snag with the return to Cambridge in in the evening is that the low Sun in the sky dazzles you. I was glad I had my sunglasses on. I did find myself trying to work out where I would be on the Lodes Way when the sun started slipping below the horizon. I paused after hauling my bike onto the footbridge over Burwell Lode - the sun gives a warm look, especially with the lemony-orange look to the sky. Again you can see how still the water was, if anything what little wind there was had gone completely.


Although I have been this way quite a few times and seen these ditches alongside the first part of the path between Burwell Lode and Newnham Drove and hadn't quite appreciated what was going on. I think these are a form of HaHa, a trench to help keep livestock from wandering where you don't want them, but providing uninterrupted views of the open and flat countryside. There is a trench on each side of this part of Lodes Way.


A strange cloud formation over the "Burwell Fen"


A little bit further along, on the stretch between Newnham Drove and Reach Lode Bridge the path is having a fence constructed (there is already an existing one on the other side). The posts have been set but no wire-fencing has been put in. I wonder how this will affect the wild deer in the area, mind you they seem to be able to go through anything.

I passed two horse riders on the path as well - they give a sense of how wide the path is. I am still a bit worried that the horse hooves seem to be digging into the path quite a lot. I am not arguing for the horse to be banned, but do wonder about the path's specification


The sunset was nicely timed to take a silhouette of Reach Lode Bridge


In fact I took a few pictures of the bridge - the same silhouette, but using Photomatix to combine multiple exposures to bring back the colour to the grass.


I even took a picture halfway up the bridge, in my mind I was thinking that the sun was the gold at the end of the road - the thing to aim for. Somehow that thought doesn't quite come out in the picture.


Actually I managed to reach White Fen as the sun hit the horizon. It is funny how the sun seems to look bigger just before setting despite it not changing at all, it is just an optical illusion.


When I got home a quick update of my cycling records, I have cycled more than 1,000Km in October which is the 7th month out of 10 this year that I have done so. There is only one year where there were more 1,000Km months and that was two years ago when I topped 16,000Km for the year. A figure I will have to work hard at if I am to beat it in the future.