Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A jaunt to Grafham Water

Wednesday, 19th September 20112: My Mother had been staying all last week and although she still gets around quite well she does suffer from a hip problem. So rather than do lots of walking we tended to visit Garden Centres – as both my wife and mother share an interest in plants and gardens. Apparently my Mum’s garden is full and she wasn’t supposed to take any plants home with her – but she did.

Unfortunately on the last day of her stay as we were walking to fetch the morning newspapers she had a slight dizzy spell. I offered to sit her down on the verge and fetch the car. But that suggestion got short shrift. I ran home about 150 or so and got the car out and my wife set of. Unfortunately she did fall over and banged her head. Several people had already stopped to offer assistance and a neighbour who has experience of care for the elderly helped us get her into the car. There was nothing broken, but she was quite shaken. It is good to see that there are good Samaritans willing to help the vulnerable.

We convinced her that we ought to take her to Casualty, but with the proviso that we wouldn’t let them keep her. When we got to Addenbrooke’s A&E she was assessed immediately and had various tests. In between several of the staff came to check she was feeling alright. In the end they glued her up and we went home. The NHS seems to get criticised, however my Mum was treated with respect, compassion and a bit of humour. Although she used to be a nurse, or maybe because she used to be a nurse, she did say she didn’t like doctors and the doctor treating agreed with her, he didn’t either.

It is not just humans that have to watch out – our trees are still under attack, the Ash tree is the latest one under threat.

You might also be wondering why I seem to have stopped posting for a while – well my wife and I finally managed to take a Summer Holiday – late and it was not the holiday we had originally planned. However it was really nice to get away.  So I am now in catch-up mode along with nearly 10 Gb of pictures, which is around 2,000 exposures, but as some of them are multiple exposures I reckon it will end up as around 500-700 different pictures. So I am trying to get those sorted.

I have also caught p with the various Blogs I read. It is amazing how much seems to happen over a couple of weeks and yet at the same time what happens appears to be more of the same. There are still problems with road layouts. Crap Walking and Cycling and Walking in Waltham Forest touches upon Cambridge with “The context and implications of a photograph”. I rather like the third photograph down. The point is that even in a place like Cambridge with a significant number of people regularly cycling our “best attempts at cycle routes” are pretty abysmal compared with what can be achieved (cf Holland). (It also referenced a Blog I had not visited before – cyclist issues with “Guidance for motorists overtaking me”. check out points 8 and 10 both problems I have regularly encountered in Cambridge.

There is some advice on tyre choice and punctures provided by the Cottenham Cyclist. I use Schwalbe Marathon Plus (SMP)  – also down at the bottom of the post is a link to an excellent You Tube video on how to fit a SMP tyre – invaluable as they can try you patience when you do need to replace them.  (For non-cyclists we are now entering the puncture season – my theory is that the grit paste that ends up on the roads at this time of year more readily sticks to tyres allowing the tiny bits of sharpened flint more time to have their wicked way with my tyres.

As a;ways there are motorists transgressing, amongst other things by ducking level-crossing barriers (28-day ban plus fines), more and more are parking on double yellow lines in Cambridge (no surprise there then). They also complain if they are “spied on” for dodgy parking.

I have also been experimenting with de-blurring software from here.  Something I need from time to time. It has also turned gloomy and Autumnal here in the Flatlands. Mind you on my travels it was autumnal in other parts of the UK.

One other gripe I have since coming back. I use Picasaweb to store my pictures for appearance in my Blog. One feature offered by Picasaweb is that it shows the number of views of each of the stored pictures. It is an interesting way of seeing what pictures are popular and by comparing the number of times a post is read with the number of times a picture is viewed you can also see where pictures have been borrowed and in one case pages and pages and pages of my blog. Well Google have unilaterally removed the counter for pictures that have fewer than 250 views. No real explanation – it is an Update! It reminds me a a certain airlines style of marketing.

So having got that off my chest here, finally is the ride. I explored some pastures new, but without the aid of artificial transport. (trains, planes or automobiles.)  It is a loop around Grafham Water – or rather a loop from Cambridge to Grafham Water and back. I made use of the CGB cycle way (Cambridge Guided Busway)  to speed up the getting there. The route was essentially NCN51 to get through to St Ives and then along a road route South of the A428 to get back.

The distance is around 92Km/57.5 miles. There are two bumps along the way at 40Km (57m) and 70Km (74m) but nothing to worry about – even for a flatlander like me. Here is the Bike Route Toaster link.

I rather like the CGB cycleway as a route to get to places or back from places quickly. It is pleasant and rural and the buses aren’t too noisy either. Mind you I would probably get bored with it if it was the only route I cycled. It also turns out that the CGB reduces anti-social behaviour.

Buses on the CGB near Milton Road

Here is the route – as you can see the CGB cycleway was against the wind – but with luck it would be with me getting home.

Map of my ride from Cambridge to Grafham Water and back

During the working day the CGB doesn’t seem to be that busy either, even on a pleasantly sunny day.

CGB Cycleway – blue skies and white puffy clouds

I stopped briefly at Fen Drayton Lakes for a drink and took a few pictures. This map names the lakes.

Map of Fen Drayton Lakes nature reserve

It was only  now that I realised that the reason there are a fair number of bicycles locked up here when I pass through is because it is used as a commuting bus stop. It goes to show that people are combining bicycles and the CGB for commuting. Even though this is a request stop. It suggests that the planners under-estimated the benefits of cycling and therefore the need to provide bicycle stands.

Commuter Cycles parked at Fen Drayton Lakes

A bit of the Lakes are history – quarrying started in 1941 to provide building materials for the large number of WWII airfields built in the area. After the war the materials were used to local farm tracks. In the 50s the building materials were used in Cambridge and as far afield as London (by rail – conveniently next door in those days.) Quarrying stopped in 1997 and the RSPB acquired the site in 2007.

History of Fen Drayton Lakes

Oxholme Lake

Although the Summer is on its way out there are still flowers along the verges including these, which I reckon is Chicory (Cichorium intybus).

Chicory along the CGB Cycleway

Some sort of inspection also seemed to be taking place – although they were dressed in suits so it could have been a group looking to build a Guided Busway in some other part come to check this one out – it is a “most innovative transport project” after all. In other CGB news it appears that the legal deadline for the Council to resp0ond to BAM Nuttall’s defence and counterclaim has been extended – because of the volume of documents submitted and the time taken for the documents to be made available.

Inspecting a “most innovative transport project” aka the CGB

I continued my journey along through St Ives and along Thicket Road and through Houghton to re-join the NCN51 route. Strictly speaking it is a footpath in parts, although I normally see more cyclists than walkers and much of its length it is a fairly wide road.

After walking through the Mill and before crossing the River Great Ouse I stopped to take this picture – tricky with the bright sun and dark shade.

Ouse Valley Way information board, Houghton Mill

The route crosses Hemingford Meadow along this tarmac path.

Hemingford Meadow

You then cross a parallel bit of the River Great Ouse and reach Meadow Lane in Hemingford.

River Great Ouse, Hemingford Abbots

NCN51 then crosses Godmanchester Common before heading  through Godmanchester via the Sewage Works. I then had to focus on the route which ducks and dives through Godmanchester and Huntingdon before heading out along the Brampton Road and through Brampton. The you cross the A1 and head up into the hills along a small lane which is called Grafham Road, I think.

Grafham Road (near Brampton)

According to the map the nearby hill is called Thistle Hill – I took it because of the shape of the tree – which looked rather strange.

Thistle Hill, Near Brampton

As I have come to realise there used to be loads of railway lines around the UK, whilst many disappeared in the Beeching cuts – they often left behind traces. This is marked as part of the Midland Railway, it joined the main line just below Huntingdon and passed through Kimbolton where it joined another mainline just below Kettering.

Disused Railway Line – Midland Railway near Brampton

After passing through the village of Grafham the route then headed off the public roads and around Grafham Water. I used Bike Route Toaster to create a track to follow and there were some deviations between the route I had captured and the route I cycled along. Mind you this might have been because I didn’t look too carefully as to whether the automatic BRT routing followed the correct path as there are a few footpaths around. I followed the route on the ground – as you would expect.

Cycling Track around Grafham Water

Grafham Water is quite big when you cycle around it. It was almost like being at the seaside.

Grafham Water

At the South-East end you cycle along one of the retaining walls which sweeps round.

Grafham Water

This is actually a reservoir, used to supply drinking water (by Anglian Water). So this structure is not actually a pier – although it looks a bit like one.

Grafham Water

A bit further around and there were boats behind bars.

Grafham Water – fishing boats

As you can see there were quite a few people fishing – a competition maybe?

Grafham Water – fishing boats

They appeared to be fly-fishing – although why you would want to catch flies is beyond me.

Grafham Water – fishing boats

After a bit more cycling the route then unexpectedly took to the grass. I had also not realised that HM Prison Littlehey was just a short distance away.

NCN51 takes to the grass at Grafham Water to head South

The grass track was a way of avoiding the B661 I reckon because the grass track brought you to a point where you crossed the B661 and headed off down another grass track. This is marked as both NCN12 and NCN51 and is a working farm track – well a bit further long anyway. This bit if the route briefly joins the Three Shires Way.

NCN51 Highfield Farm, Grafham Water

Just after passing the farm you join one of the working farm tracks. This was unexpected (in a good way), Yes perhaps I should had checked the route out – but I really enjoy cycling through the countryside along these sorts of routes. They might not be as fast as tarmac, they they are a lot more pleasant than roads with motor traffic on.

NCN51/NCN12 between Grafham and St Ives

How about that for a view – it was as if I had my own patch of blue sky and the clouds were all gathering over Grafham Water.

NCN51/NCN12 between Grafham and St Ives

This was the track, it had a bit of gravel and so some care was needed – but it was almost deserted. Apart from three dog walkers a cyclist and me.

NCN51/NCN12 between Grafham and St Ives

I tend to pass the dog walkers rather than hang around. In my experience some (not all) of the dog walkers who seek remote places to walk their dogs do so because their dogs can be anti-social, and more often anti-cyclist. They weren’t in this case though. I stopped and had a chat with the other cyclist who was touring with a couple of panniers.

NCN51/NCN12 between Grafham and St Ives

Just after my chat with the cyclist the route re-joined the public roads – a road I now know is called Ford End and this is why. This ford is perhaps the reason why it wasn’t busy. It runs between Hail Weston and Little Paxton. The river it crosses is the River Kym. If you follow the link Wikipedia doesn’t have much to say about it. Although the road surface under water can be slippery  |I cycled through – it washed my tyres.

Whilst thinking about it I forgot to mention that when cycling along the CGB cycleway there was a muffled click click coming from my front tyre as cycled along. I stopped to investigate and found a thorn digging into the tyre. I pulled it out – at this point what normally happens is the tyre goes down, for a change it didn’t I had caught the thorn before it had gone through.

Ford over the River Kym, Ford End

After that rather pleasant country interlude the route took me through St Neots. I didn’t precisely follow the NCN route – just more or less. Even with a GPS the routes can chop and change a bit, even at the slow speeds I cycle at. The problem is that the cycle routes are often grafted onto an existing series of paths and will turn through 90o unexpectedly.

Just as unexpectedly I came across another Sustrans Portrait Bench. To pass one is to wonder whether the Sustrans chappies and chappesses are a little weird but when you have seen one or two they are rather endearing. The tall man is James Toller (1795 – 1818) born in St Neots, he grew to 8ft 1.5inches tall. The cyclist is Cecil Paget – inventor of the weatherproof cape – well done that man. The girl playing cricket is a girl playing cricket. Here is a link to its unveiling.

(Part of the reason I take pictures on my rides is that it reminds me to check out things later one.)

St Neots’ Portrait Bench

I then headed out of St Neots along the St Neots Road to Abbotsley. I did stop to take a picture of these rockets. (Which is what my son used to call them when he was a young lad). They do seem to have a bit of exhaust coming out of them. The map calls them Power Station Gallow Hill (OS) and Little Barford Power Station (OSM). It is a 680MWe gas-fired power station. (Wadlow Wind Farm near Cambridge is a 26MW, 13-turbine farm.)

Little Barford Power Station

After wending my way through the villages along roads I turned off along a bridleway between Bourn and Caldecote – passing this wind turbine en route. I can’t recall it being here the last time I cycled this way – but that might just be my memory.

Wind Turbine near Bourn

This is the bridleway – quite a bit of fruit along the hedgerow.

Bridleway between Bourn and Caldecote

Blackberries ripening  along the Bridleway between Bourn and Caldecote

Rose hips ripening along the Bridleway between Bourn and Caldecote

As the Summer passes the harvesting comes to an end and the fields are ploughed an drilled with the next crop.

Freshly Ploughed field

I then headed towards Childerley Gate and past Hardwick on a road parallel to the dual carriageway that now passes that way. On the outskirts of Hardwick, more evidence that there ought to be more cycling parking at bus stops.

Hardwick Bus stop – more cycle parking please

Alongside the American Military Cemetery at Madingley there are some good views of Cambridge. If you look very closely there is the Linton Water Tower off in the distance on the horizon.

View of Cambridge from Madingley Hill

And this is the same view without the zoom. It is not actually called Madingley Hill on the map though. I made that bit up.

View of Cambridge from Madingley Hill

I can certainly recommend that ride – I really enjoyed it although I would prefer a different route back. It wasn’t bad just not very inspiring.


  1. Swaffham Bulbeck CyclistOctober 28, 2012 at 3:32 PM

    Looks like a lovely ride that. Superb pictures too. It's interesting how cycle routes I would never normally choose from the O.S. map, often prove to be excellent in reality. The bit you did between St Ives and Houghton for example. Another, nearer me is the old railway line from Lode to near Snout Corner, which isn't even marked as a public right of way on the map! If I didn't know the area I would not have thought of going that way. As someone who share's your enthusiasm for quiet routes and tracks, I often wonder how many great routes I miss out on by too much rigourous route planning from the maps!

    Anyway, I have a 2pm meeting in Thetford on Tuesday and your post has inspired me to cycle there and perhaps get the train back to Ely on the way home as it will be dark by then).

    1. I did enjoy the ride - there is nothing like venturing into pastures new - especially those pastures that are actually quite close by. I was lucky with the weather as well though.

      On Friday I met with a friend at the Maid's Head in Wicken and on the way back met a couple cycling back along the Lodes Way - they'd decided to have a traffic-free day. I don't think non-cyclists realise just how noisy modern roads can get.

      I hope the weather is ok for tomorrow's Thetford meeting. I have also found some more Spindle up past Upware, which will appear in a post soon, hopefully.

    2. Swaffham Bulbeck CyclistOctober 29, 2012 at 7:50 PM

      I noticed that the spindle is looking good near Swaffham Bulbeck Lode bridge too at the moment.

      Looking forward to my Thetford trip - the forecast is promising and as you say it's good to find new places to explore.

    3. You have picked a nice day for your ride - I think I will have to go out for a spin and take advantage of the weather (and catch up with the Archers!)

  2. Swaffham Bulbeck CyclistOctober 31, 2012 at 7:18 PM

    Hi JME
    Hope you made it out as well yesterday and caught up with the goings on in Ambridge, it certainly was a great day to be cycling. I was lucky I had such lovely weather and made it to Thetford in 3.5 hours or so, (29 miles), though I was not in a hurry. Once past Kennet and Kentford it was a quiet lane past Cavenham to Lackford and then forest tracks all the way (mainly Icknield Way).

    After my meeting I had a jobsworth East Midlands Trains conductor who wouldn't let me on the train at Thetford with my bike (or two other people with bikes), but I was able to get on the next one after freezing on the platform for half an hour.

    After Ely, it was dark and the NCN 11 from Padney to Wicken is an absolute mudbath (sugar beet season) - had to be dead careful. Then I got stuck just after the bridge over Burwell Lode as they have diverted the way, but in the dark, I couldn't see where to go. Ended up in a ditch at one point following some white poles I thought where part of the diversion! Figured it out in the end though (in daylight I imagine it's a doddle and you just follow the bank, but I couldn't see the sign on the bank 200yards or so along showing where to rejoin the path). Still, 3 barn owls and a lovely moon more than made up for it!

    Hope to catch up soon out and about.

    1. I did go out and almost caught up with the Archers. It was a lovely day to be out and about and not too cold. It was a bit sobering how quickly it got dark though.

      Annoying not to be allowed on the train, it can be so variable, yet trains and bicycles should go together well.

      I should have warned you about the work around Burwell Lode, I popped over to the Maid's Head in Wicken last Friday and even in daylight it delayed me, it must have been awful in the dark. The old railway line between Lode and Quy has also been churned up a bit by beet traffic.

      The trouble is that many Sustrans routes in the countryside are probably thought of as leisure routes, travelled in the daylight. So no thought is given to their safety at night when covered in mud.