Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Roman Road to Westley Bottom and back Part 1

I am trying to build up my cycling distance at the moment.  Now that Spring seems to be poised to spring. The trouble is it seems to leave me with less time to sort out write my Posts.  The first casualty has been commenting on cycling related snippets of news. I currently have a Browser window open with around 25 “snippets”. Every now and then I go through them and trim them down as they get old.

Perhaps I’ll get a few done now while I think about it. The Cambridge Guided Bus is never long out of the news – and once again the “Council have expressed their anger over further busway delays”. Apparently there is still some documentation that needs to be delivered to the Council.  Whilst I have some sympathy for the council they are the client and have a responsibility on the behalf of us to properly manage Council expenditure. Just because you get someone else to do the work does not mean that you can then absolve yourself of all responsibility when things go wrong.

Talking of things that can go wrong, there is work taking place to improve The Tins path between Cherry Hinton and Mill Road. Well the good news is that it is almost complete. The, well, not so good news, is that a new bridge that has been built as part of the improvement does not fit. When they came to winch it into place the abutments on either side of the stream were too close apparently. One cockup is a nuisance, two cockups is careless. Although perhaps I shouldn’t complain too much – they’ll just stop building cycling facilities.

Although this ride does not go anywhere near the River Cam there have been some trees (20) planted along the river towpath between Baits Bite Lock and Clayhithe. They are to replace trees felled due to safety concerns. From the news item I see that the tow path is called the Hailingway towpath and more trees will be planted as well. Mind you sometimes trees get chopped and not replaced – “Wildlife area ‘decimated’ to pave way for new road” cores of trees have been chopped down along Long Road to make way for a road for the Clay Farm development, part of Great Kneighton. Apparently 686 trees are at risk, although there will be replanting.

On a more tragic note, I kept this piece about the moon looking bigger on the 19th March as the moon will be at its closest for 19 years, an event known as lunar perigee. the piece also comments on how in previous situations natural disasters have occurred. The article indicates that there is no scientific evidence for such occurrences. Then we had the terrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  Without any evidence on my part it does make me wonder whether the closer moon is one of those tipping factors.  I have been to Japan many times and experienced minor Earthquakes there so my heart goes out to everyone affected by the tragic events.

It is a reminder of how powerful nature is and how much we rely on technology in our every day lives. I get irritated when my Broadband connection fails for a few minutes or we have a short power cut.  A piece on the BBC News website did warn that we had become ‘over-reliant’ on GPS signals. The satellite signal was likened to the light from a bright bulb 20,000Km away and how easy it was to jam such signals. I have been involved in the electronics industry all my working life but as I get older I do find myself wondering how it will all play out. For instance China now produces over 97% of the world’s rare earth supply – important in many electronic components.

Perhaps that is why I like bicycles – it is a simple equation – you pedal, you move. So on a more positive note here are some pictures on the BBC website – “The beauty of the bicycle”. If you hanker back to the old sit-up-and-beg bikes then Beg is the company for you, their website is not currently showing much though.

Now on to my cycle ride.  At the moment I am just getting back into the swing of cycling moderate distances again after the lull over the Winter period.  I am not finding myself suffering from aches and pains so much after 80Km/50 mile rides, but I can’t claim to be as fit as I have been.  What this means is that many of my rides tend to be shorter circular loops and as the weather turns more Spring-like I tend to use the byways and bridleways.  On this ride I actually set off to ride around Lodes Way, always a pleasant jaunt into the nearby countryside. However as I was heading out of Cambridge I had a change of mind. I decided to cycle up the Roman Road (pdf leaflet) towards Balsham, then depending upon the state of the Roman Road either head back via the roads or more byways.

In the end I did follow the byways and very pleasant it was too.  It always surprises me how quickly round here the byways can go from wet and slippery mud to solid and dry mud. Or should I say with the exception of the high-quality path alongside the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB) up near St Ives. here is the Bike Route Toaster link to the map shown below. It is just under 60Km/ 36miles in length and does actually involve some climbing, first to 70m above sea level and then to around 110m.  I reckon a little over half of it is on byways which is perhaps why it is reasonable for cycling around.

So after deciding upon a different route I dropped down though the Wilbrahams to Fulbourn. Although I did stop a few times, the first time was to take a picture of this tree with its leaves almost fully out. It was certainly the most advanced one I’ve seen this Spring. I think it is a Horse Chestnut, although I didn’t look too closely and the picture is not the clearest either. It must be a bit of a suntrap there in the playground.

After passing Herring’s House on the Wilbraham Road I did stop where a footpath crosses the road just before Fulbourn. As you can see the field has been recently ploughed, but the farmer has not neglected to re-mark the path.  You can also see how sunny it was and there were blue skies. The building is owned by a Grain Company and is near the site of the old Fulbourn Railway Station. if you follow the link you can see that there were two tracks running past. Now there is one. It was closed in 1967, the station that is, there are still trains that run on the line as I saw for myself in Part 2,

Whilst standing by the footpath I also took some pictures of the daffodils growing along the roadside verges. (This paragraph went missing between writing it and then check the Blog – I must be more careful with the delete key.)

After Fulbourn there is a short hill and then the entrance to the Roman Road. It does not have a car park, although you do get quite a few cars huddled around the entrance just of the road.  There is then a short bit of track and what looks like a car park before the Roman Road proper starts.  The gap in the gate at the entrance is pretty thin, I am not sure how this car got in.

A lot of effort has gone into ensuring the Road remains vehicle free as there is yet another barrier – although it looks as if you pass through the middle the actual route is to the left of the picture.

The track opens out a little as it passes through an avenue of Beech trees. It is quite a popular spot for walking (and walking dogs) so you have to watch out and the path rises and dips as it travels over the hills. As you can see this bit of the route is very easy to cycle along, although the gravel is a bit loose.

The Roman Road passes Wandlebury Country Park and you can get to the park from the Roman Road, This doesn’t look much like it but is a slight hill.

As I mentioned earlier the road is well barricaded – this is a byway to the Babraham Road which leads into Fulbourn (not Babraham) – it heads North North East.

This byway heads in the other direction (SSW) off the Roman Road and has featured on some of my cycle rides, it is called Mile Road and joins the A1307.  There is a very gravelly cycle track alongside the road leading up to the entrance to Wandlebury Country Park. The loose gravel is hard work though.

The Roman Road undulates, which makes it a very pleasant ride.  The surface is also pretty good for cycling along at this end.

The other thing I like about the Roman Road is that it gets its own bridge over the A11 dual-carriageway down by Worsted Lodge, where the farmhouse is a listed building. The bridge mainly serves the Roman Road users and the small group of houses clustered around the bridge. There is a small road that will take you to Babraham as well. This is the view from the bridge of the A11, a busy road, the bridge further up carries the Fulbourn to Balsham road.  An old railway line use to run down in roughly the direction of the A11. You can see it marked on the map, in fact it is marked as an old railway line on the 1930s OS map as well. I presume it was a “Cambridge bypass from Bury St Edmunds. A quick look on the web and I think it was the Newmarket and Chesterford Railway but known as the Newmarket Railway and was superseded by the link between Six Mile Bottom and Cambridge and it was closed in 1851, according to Wikipedia one of the earliest railway closure in British railway history.

This was the view I was more interested in – over the bridge and up the Roman Road. With what is I think Balsham Wood to the left on the horizon.  In fact the Roman Road almost seems to be heading of in the wrong direction.

In places the track narrows, although it is cleared from time to time by the friends.

A close-up of the catkins in front of a blue sky.

One of the things I like about cycling along the Roman Road is that you get to see quite a fair bit of countryside away from the distractions of the noisy roads and of course being on a bike you cover a bit more ground than you (well I) would on foot. The Spring is a busy time of year and there was quite a lot of farming activity in the fields. These tractors are ploughing some fair old furrows. The seagulls like it though.

The old Linton Water Tower hove into view across the gently rolling fields. I did think about cycling down through Linton and along the byway through to Great Chesterford, but that byway can get a little tricky in places. Perhaps I ought to get a GPS trace of it for the OSM ers, as it does not yet appear on the OSM street or cycle map.

I was some distance way from the Tower though, the last picture relied on my zoom lens – this is more what it looked like, far enough away such that I didn’t change my mind.

As the Roman Road neared the Balsham turn (along the Icknield Way Trail) the track gets a little trickier on a bicycle, I made it without dabbing a foot down, but did ground my pedals a few times. When in a rut you have to keep you pedals level as they have a habit of getting caught on the edges when the pedal is at the bottom of the stroke. So no longer a case of “Keep pushing those pedals”. The trickiest bit is just before the Roman Road crosses the B1052. On the other side there was a sign warning of operations in progress.  It turns out that the path has been cleared and to some degree flattened all the way up to the turn off to Balsham. It was much easier to cycle and on looking at the picture I realise that I have not noticed the twin runs of Telegraph poles before – I must have been concentrating on my cycle line on previous occasions..

So far the byways had been easier than I had expected, in fact with the clearance they were easier than I remember from last year. Mind you the bit from the Roman Road to Balsham was pretty muddy and sticky last year – perhaps I have spoken too soon.

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