Friday 22 June 2012

Cambridge to Whittlesford and Return

Using NCN11 vs the traditional road route

There are 2 routes to Whittlesford from near Cambridge railway station. The traditional one down the main, but not too busy, Shelford Road and the new one following National Cycle Network Route 11.

This second route has really only just opened up thanks to recent changes between Whittlesford and Sawston. It is 7.5 miles instead of the straight 7 miles of the Shelford Road route. However, having 75% of it off-road compared to less than half on the old route, more than makes up for it. And the remaining 25% is on quiet residential village roads. It's quiet enough to feel quite safe whilst riding. Something that not always felt on the Shelford road.

From the railway station, the new guided busway route and spur gets as far as the Addenbrookes cyclepath. At the other end of that there's a short section through Shelford into Stapleford before coming out to the next offroad section alongside the A-road to Sawston. The Sawston dog-leg is a bit irritating, but it was built to support local schoolkids getting to the schools in the large village. Crossing the railway and then the river Cam or Granta (note not "river Granta"!) and the new Whittlesford cyclepath appears. This is a converted footpath, but so many kids had been using it, it seemed silly to keep it as such. There are some highly amusing "Slow Pedestrians Ahead" signs, but that's better than the old (and misunderstood) "Cyclists Dismount" signs.

The route maps in Google Maps are red for Shelford Road route, blue for the NCN11 route. And it is thin for off-road sections and thick for on-road sections.

View Cambridge to Whittlesford Routes in a larger map

The last time I came back along the traditional Shelford Road route on a Sunday night I saw my first car at Addenbrookes hospital and wasn't passed by one until Hills Road railway bridge. The route can have cars on it but isn't a busy road.

For a video view, some photos, and some explanation of the local river naming around the NCN11 route (in reverse) look at my Wimpole Folly and the Three Cams post.

UPDATE: a 5 minute clip of the full route.

And a postcard a friend gave me.

Some Alpine Tour de France Pictures

With the 2012 Tour de France almost upon us, I thought I'd put up some of my pictures of Alpine places visited in previous years. Some of these they are going to this year, some not!

First, a place they aren't doing this year, Col d'Izoard. We camped there, within a dozen yards of the top, in 2006. The Race going over with the eventual winner, Oscar Pereiro, in yellow.

Col d'Izoard, the mountain view north.

Col d'Izoard, the road view north. This was to Briançon. I picked up a Tour de France roundabout sign from there, right in front of the Gendarmes. Mind you the race had already gone through, so it was fair game.

Col d'Izoard, the road view north east.

Col d'Izoard, the view south through Casse Déserte, a notorious spot at the end of the climb from the south.

The view back up through Casse Déserte, towards Col d'Izoard. Yes, I cycled down then up for a bit of fun. Got caught behind a car on hte way down. Ain't just always the way! 

Col d'Izoard, the Coppi Memorial. Also Louison Bobet remembered here. Europe remembers it's cyclists in the most beautiful places.

Now on to Col de Richemond, which is a much smaller climb. They are going over this in 2012. We camped on the banks of the Rhone the day before and came up on the day. It was a last visit during the 2002 Tour. First, the race going past on it's way up the east side.

Col de Richemond. The view back down to the Rhone valley where we camped.

Col de Richemond. Le Train Bleu taking Armstrong up.

Col du Galibier. One of the main climbs in the Alps that we visited in 2002. This year it's not being used. This is the view north.

Col du Galibier. And the view south-east towards Briançon.

Col du Galibier. The Henri Desgranges memorial. That's the guy who thought of the race in the first place (or Géo Lefèvre some say). His idea to sell his newspaper was to highlight the delights of the French countryside, including it's many wines and cheeses, by sending round many journalists following the cycle race. in the first year, 1903, there were 6 stages with the longest being 293 miles, around twice as long as nowadays.

And onto Col du Glandon. This was done a lot in the late 1990s and early 2000s. We visited in 2002 and 2006 but only as a ride through. In 2006, I did cycle up from the lake just to the south of the summit. Mainly as I only had a few minutes before the race was due to pass. This is the view north towards Col de la Madeleine.

Col du Glandon. Me at the sign.

And this is the view Col de la Croix de Fer, which is the main climb with Col du Glandon on it's slopes.

So onto Col du Lautaret, which isn't in this year's Tour. We camped on it during 2006. Here's a Tridem going up the west side.

Col du Lautaret. The view of the Lautaret glacier, pretty much on a level with out campsite.

Col du Lautaret. The race comes past and we got a Cofidis bottle, from Bradley Wiggins himself!

And a last col, the Cormet de Roselend. They aren't going here this year. We visited in 2002, camping just at the head of hte valley before coming up on the day. Yep,  that's my car parked right at the top.

Cormet de Roselend. The view south towards Bourg Saint Maurice. We could see them climbing for ages, steadily becoming a bit more than dots, until they appeared below.

Cormet de Roselend. The race comes past, eek, my car!

For people that don't know, to while away the time before the race appears, the Publicity Caravanne passes throwing out freebies. The vehicles are all shapes and sizes.

Final Goodies Haul from the 2006 Tour.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Some Pyrenean Tour de France Pictures

With the 2012 Tour de France almost upon us, I thought I'd put up some of my pictures of Pyrenean places they are going to this year.

This is the Col d'Aubisque finish in 2007 with Cadel Evans just getting to the top.

This is the view from half-way to Col d'Aubisque towards Col du Solour, again in 2007.

This is the view from Col d'Aubisque towards Col du Solour, again in 2007.

This is the finish in Luchon in 2009, with Ballan just coming in.

This is the main street in Luchon in 2003.

This is the main street in Luchon in 2003 with the race coming through.

This is a wine merchants in Luchon in 2009. I got read out on the Eurosport coverage about this!

This is the start in Luchon in 2009. Wiggo just heading for the start line.

This is the signing on in Pau in 2007. This is where the yellow jersey of Rasmussen did not appear.

This is the view from Col du Solour of the Cirque du Litor, in 2007.

This is the view from below Col du Solour of the Cirque du Litor, again in 2007.

This is some of the wildlife on Col du Solour, in 2007.

This is the view from Col du Solour, in 2007.

This is narrow top of Col du Tourmalet, in 2005.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Wimpole Folly and the Three Cams

A short trip round the west and south of Cambridge

It's an excuse to explore some of the off-road tracks to the west of Cambridge, a little bit of rough country, followed by running round some pleasant roads on the flat at a reasonable speed.

The Route to Wimpole Folly

Wimpole Folly sits on the hill above Wimpole Hall in the corner of Cambridgeshire. I'm going to do the 12 miles to it from central Cambridge 75% off-road, and most of the rest on quiet country lanes.

View Wimpole Folly and the Three Cams in a larger map

From the station, there's a quick traffic-limited route to the end of Brooklands Avenue. Here, a rider should dismount to cross Hills Road onto the shared path all the way down to the Coe Fen. Crossing Coe Fen is pleasant, but look out for young cattle, along with dogs and pedestrians! After Coe Fen most of Fen Causeway can be done on the side. I choose to come off it to avoid pedestrains but can always switch back on if the lights are against me.

My photo from of cattle on the Coe Fen.

The next bit can be done off-road, but it's very slow, so I opt for the road round to Sidgwick Avenue. A few more quiet residential roads and the West Cambridge Cyclepath beckons. This is a solid route out of town that really gets the miles going. At the end, Coton village offers a mile of quiet roads, then it's back onto the rough "Harcamlow Way". I'm sure the Ordnance Survey map people made that up!

After the first section of this, there is a very useful permissive bridleway. A local landowner has turned over a small amount of land that means anyone traversing this way does not need to go on the road at all (normally for 200 unpleasant yards). This is much appreciated, although probably with horses in mind. Still no nasty fast cars to deal with!

My photo on of the permissive bridleway entrance opposite the previous section of path.

Still going on, the track is rough but wide, a bit damp but not muddy! It doesn't take long to get to Caldecote. There's a lot more evidence of horse use here. Quite a few paddocks and stables to go with the horse-shoe markings on the paths.

South on a quiet road downhill with a small section of the B1046 before heading up to Kingston, another pretty and quiet village.

View Kingston larger

Exiting Kingston by taking Crane Lane up to the final track up to the top of the hill. More good views as I climb to the highest point of 78metres. Not very much, but I did cross the Coe Fen at about 10metres. There is a very strange arrangement along this track. There seems to be a wide path right next to it. And it's on the map as well. The track is mostly dry apart from a short wooded section. Then a bit of slipping but nothing serious.

The View from the Top

Finally at the top. I could stop and play, but I'm more into heading on, losing two-thirds of that gained height over a short mile or so at up to 35mph. Anyway, this is what the folly looks like.

Wimpole Folly

The Three Cams

Well, I hit the local plain floor and head towards my food stop in Orwell. The roads here do have some traffic, but most are having a pleasant day at Wimpole Hall and are in no mood to rush around in a bad temper. They are much more likely to pass wide, clear, and going a lot slower. Crossing the A604 is not so easy. Again there's a useful side path, but it's not designed for pedestrians and bikes, so I move to the road quite quickly, despite the 60mph cars. I'm sure they could do better for the short 200 yards that it's needed.

View A604 larger

Still, once past that, the centre of the village of Orwell is very pretty. I have a bit to eat to keep energy levels up.

Food stop at Orwell Church

And a summer pass showing a Pannier Market!

So, onto the Three Cams. Well, a bit of license here, but these three rivers define the shape of the valleys up water from Cambridge. They all flow through Cambridge as the river Cam. The Rhee and the Granta meet at Hauxton Junction just above Byron's Pool. Just up the Granta branch it amalgamates two rivers again, this time called the "river Granta or Cam" and the "river Granta". Wikipedia has the orginal name for Cambridge as "Grantebrycge", hence the river name.Thus the 3 rivers above Cambridge have 3 names, but 2 names can mean 2 different rivers. Hmm, give me calculus....

The river Rhee goes through the villages to the west all the way up to Ashwell just in Hertfordshire. This is the first river I'll cross, just after Barrington. I notice that my speed on the road is much quicker than the previous track experiences, but then I cross the Rhee and my speed drops! Even what looks to be flat around here, isn't so much. Do note that people here call the river the Cam. Hmm.

Just after that I have the first level crossing experience. Luckily not a long wait, unlike the Tour de Suisse the day after!  The villages of Shepreth, Fowlmere, and Thriplow are all pretty, the latter especially during it's daffodil festival. The roads between are fast but dull, barring the horrible crossing of the A10.

Daffodil festival by Rouguesgallery17 on Flickr.

In Thriplow, taking a back lane finds the recently upgraded Drift Track. It's now a bridleway, so open to people cycling and is a convenient way to get to Whittlesford.

In Whittlesford, a local footpath has been converted to a new cyclepath to the large village of Sawston. This is mostly to do with school children, as the latter has big schools for the local area. There is some concern about the lack of signage for this path. And you see that I don't take this route. I've always found Church Lane more pleasant, although this isn't the main route and again is confusing with the signage.

Photo from looking back towards Whittlesford.

A certain amount of amusement can be had from the "Slow Pedestrians Ahead" signs with the lack of comma after "Slow". But it is a massive improvement on the "Cyclists Dismount" sign, which is it's equivalent. Just to note, the "Cyclists Dismount" sign is not an instruction/order (it's a blue sign) it is a request.There have been a number of campaigns against the misleading wording of it.

At the end of this path is the crossing of the "river Cam or Granta", altogether more pleasant than the crossing of the Rhee. This river is the biggest of the three and goes up beyond Audley End. My Saffron Walden route covers this well. I canoed down from above here the Easter when I was 11. I got wet, and during overnight camping, it froze. Needless to say, not the happiest experience.

Anyway, the second level crossing experience happened just after this. Again, not a long wait. After the crossing, there was a distinct lack of signage. The route actually goes to the right of the road and onto the pavement. But that's not clear, there are no signs.

In Sawston the cyclepath quickly disappears. This wasn't too much of an issue on a Sunday afternoon. I just wonder what schoolchildren experience going along this road at just before 9am on a weekday, at the same time as many, possibly rushing, people driving?

Again in Sawston the signage is a bit lacking. A route continues on the pavement up north from the main crossroads. It's not easy to get onto it if you've missed the previous dropped kerb with the only nearby drop right at the lights. This route north isn't too bad. It is a bit thin, a bit rough at times, and has some unnecessary conflict with bus passengers. It's better than being on the road here, though.

When rejoining the A1301 it does the most ridiculous route. It actually crosses one more road than necessary. Why?!

Extra unnecessary road crossing in less sunny times from

It then does these series of close wiggles designed to slow people cycling down. Of course, the result is lots of off-road cuts where people cycling have just given up and smoothed the corners. I guess the principle is that theyy should slow down to stop before crossing the more dangerous A1301. And, given people driving blast along here at 60mph (and more!), it's possible to understand that point. However, with the clear lines of sight, the loud noise of traffic on the roads, I can't see any person cycling missing the danger of this place.

After this the cyclepath goes into Stapleford. The path is separated from the road, but still narrow and shared with pedestrians. It does have a nice little side route away from the road whilst crossing the "river Granta". However, getting onto this from the other direction is a task, and sharing with pedestrians is not ideal either.

My Photo from

The "river Granta" follows the valley up through Linton to Haverhill. Again, this appears on my Saffron Walden route.

Through Stapleford on route NCN11, up Church Street and along Mingle Lane, passing the village church.

View Larger picture

Then onto the Addenbrookes cycle path and south Cambridge Guided Buway Cyclepath, which I've written about before!

Full Video Clip

This shows the full trip at 8 times speed. Key points are as follows.

00:13 Cross Hills Road
00:28 The Coe Fen
01:27 West Cambridge Cyclepath
02:44 Off-roading from Coton
03:31 Permissive bridleway
06:42 Kingston village
08:44 Wimpole Folly top
09:32 A604 path for people cycling?
09:57 Food stop in Orwell
10:55 Barrington
11:09 Crossing river Cam or Rhee
11:29 Level crossing
13:36 The Drift
15:19 Whittlesford Cyclepath
16:28 Pointless road crossing and slalom
16:43 Crossing "river Granta"
17:19 Addenbrookes Cyclepath
18:02 South Cambridge Guided Buway Cyclepath

Monday 11 June 2012

Box Hill

With the Olympic Road Roace getting closer, I thought it worthwhile having a look at the highlight of the race, the Box Hill climb.

This has long been popular with cyclists as the Wikipedia entry alludes. The Guardian also lists it in one of Britain's Best Rides.

It looks to be a fantastic ride and one of steady ambition. In the Google map below, I spot the hard points where it goes above 10% and 20%! Luckily those are short and relieved by long drags that will dampen spirits but not put riders under too much pressure.

View Box Hill Climb in a larger map

Here's a great clip from 4ChordsNoNet showing many cyclists going at many different speeds!

However, I cannot disagree more with people who liken it to Alpe d'Huez. There simply is no comparison. Box Hill is 120m up at an average of 6%, Alpe d'Huez is 1071m at an average of 7.9%. Even if it's noted for it's character, it still doesn't come close. And that goes for pretty much every hill climb in the UK compared to the Alpine and Pyrenean climbs. I suspect those who say as such have never been near a European mountain climb. The sheer amount of time spent on a big climb is a different universe to the 10-20 minutes spent getting up Box Hill!

Maybe I don't know Box Hill well, and I've never done it. I have done several similar ones around the Goring Gap, where Streatley Hill is shorter for the same height gain. Again, hard, but no comparison to Plateau de Beille.

Anyway, to those riding it, happy riding! It looks fun. Any of course, to Mark Cavendish doing it 9 times during the Olympic Road Race (PDF), Good luck!

Cambridgeshire Cycling Gets More Dangerous

Well, now it's official. Cambridgeshire became a more dangerous place to ride a bike last year.

This article from Cambridge News shows that 64 cyclists were killed or seriously injured on Cambridgeshire roads last year, an increase of 14% whilst cycling numbers only went up by 8%.

Cambridge Cycling Campaign is very quick to defend the Cambridge city's reputation for safe cycling. And rightly so, it is a great place to ride. There is a higher percentage of cyclists on the road in Cambridge than pretty much any place in the country, so there is an expectation of more collisions simply by numbers.

They also talk about 20mph limits as being one of the main safety issues to help solve the danger of vehicle speed. I couldn't agree more. The usual experience of speed being close passes and one of the regular dangers I'm exposed to. If there's any doubt, please look at the 150+ clips I've recorded in selected periods over the past 20 months or so.

Now I don't think all these people driving were thinking "Damn cyclist, get out of my way" (to which I'd reply as follows) many simply have no idea what effect their vehicle has. Until you experience a vehicle weighing 1 to 50 tons passing at 30-60mph within 3-6 foot you may not understand what it's like. Because of the violent interaction to the outside world, those inside the vehicle are cosseted.  Sounds are dampened, vibration calmed, and comfy seats and airbags provided to insulate from the disruption outside. The result is that there is little understanding of their impact on their immediate vicinity. 

I thought a good addition to driving lessons would be to experience what it's like, and had quite a lot of people who cycle agree. How about having to stand back-turned 1 metre out from the kerb and have cars and lorries pass with 3-6 foot, probably just starting at 30mph? And no, don't say that's ridiculous and dangerous, because that's exactly what some people driving think is acceptable on the roads. This is also meant to help people walking, who also suffer this assault whilst just trying to go about their daily business.

However, despite being a proven way of saving lots of lives, the 20mph speed limits set are not generally being enforced by the local police, mostly because they feel they can't. And they want to stop doing what little they are anyway. This is despite even the RAC reporting the evidence that it will reduce casualties by 41%, with deaths or serious injuries to children cut by half.

Cambridge Cycling Campaign also talk about some "professional drivers" seeking to use their vehicles as training tools for their perceived issues on the roads. I'm pleased to say I've rarely experienced this but it's not unheard of. I've been in a taxi that drove a person cycling into the side of the road. I've also been threatened with being run over by a taxi driver when pointing out (carefully and calmly!) he was parked in a contraflow cycle lane. Needless to say the taxi firm didn't care when I called them.One very big indicator of the need for a reporting mechanism for taxi drivers behaviour.

Of course there are lots of close passes by taxis, couriers, and buses in the link above. But whether that's deliberate or not I can't tell.  And whether professional drivers do it more or not I can't tell as I don't know the proportion of them on the road.

I did have one particular bus incident that was just a mistake. But the meaning would have little impact on me if I lost my life in an incident like this.

No, although Cambridge Cycling Campaign may be right about professional drivers, the biggest issue on the road is people driving simply not giving enough room. Most of the time this is just plain ignorance, hence my driving lessons idea. Sometimes it's incredibly frustrating as there is plenty of room for the person driving ot take their car further away from me.

I must say the majority of people driving are very good. But even bad passes happening 5% of the time means 4-10 every trip I make. That's 4-10 too many.

At 20mph, having 3 foot space (so that means being over the central line on small roads) makes me feel safe. At 30 mph, I need a lot more. At 60mph you need to be in the other gutter or, here's a good one, slowing down. People driving do not have a right to be at the speed limit in all conditions, they have a duty to be safe to themselves and everyone around them on the road.

Finally in the article from Cambridge News, Cllr Tony Orgee talks about better training, more cycling facilities. and enforcement. It's telling that it's in that order. Whilst I agree training is good, I see very few people cycling around that don't seem to know the rules of the road or how to act safely. I can hear the sharp intake of breath from a long distance. All those red light jumpers, all those cycling on the pavements, all those not wearing helmets or hi-viz. Well, the links show those are all distractions. Pedestrians injured following Red Light Jumping in London: 4% were where a person cycling was responsible and 96% was a person driving (CTC report, page 10).

Finally, the introduction of a cycling champion. I welcome it. I also welcome hearing anything happening. Nothing to date.

Friday 8 June 2012

River Cam and Green Lanes

an exploration up NCN11 and look at some off-road routes near Cambridge

Several parts to this post.

NCN11 Disconnect

Going north-east up National Cycle Network Route 11 from Cambridge, there's a break in the route. It follows the river Cam up to Waterbeach then disappears to re-appear about 2 miles south-east heading up to Wicken Fen in a parallel fashion. Between these two ends, there are a few paths and two river crossings at Clayhithe and Bottisham Lock.

View River Cam and Green Lanes in a larger map

This little trip and video clip was partly an investigation into that gap which has 2 obvious solutions.
  • A simple route from the Clayhithe road bridge would be to convert a private road, Hatridge's Lane to Northfields Farm, and cut the short distance through to Vicarage Farm on Lug Fen Droveway (which is already a public footpath). Then the route would go south-east along Lug Fen Droveway, a public road, until it met up at White Fen Drove.
  • The proposed NCN11 route would be fromWaterbeach railway station car park, where the route currently ends, alongside ht railway north-east, then along Burgess Drove and turning down to Bottisham Lock. Crossing the river, turning along the bank paths until Bottisham Lode then coming along the west side Bottisham Lode until Lug Fen Droveway again.

It looks like both routes are experiencing some opposition, maybe from the landowners, maybe not.

Hatridge's Lane is private, although there are public footpaths that do a similar route, a few dozen yards away. "Private" signs are clear, which can simply be the landowner not wanting people to accidentally come this way, of course.

View picture larger

This route has probably the least impact and least building costs involved. However, it's not the proposed option.

Starting opposite Waterbeach railway station car park looks better to begin with. This is already a public footpath, has space, and in semi-public ownership.

View picture larger

However, looking at the below video clip, Burgess Drove quickly deteriorates and would need some work, especially as it's quite well used by other vehicles.

Then Bottisham Lock is a very narrow crossing currently with steps. That would not work with larger or loaded bikes.

Then, when approaching Bottisham Lode there's clear signs of antipathy towards cycling. Or possibly simply trying to stop the tide. I'm sure many cyclists don't know what to do when getting to the end of NCN11 and just try pushing through. Anyway, here's the signs on both routes on.

Photo from

The latter photo is the proposed route down to Lug Fen Causeway where the path quickly joins the public road across a bridge.

View picture larger

So which route should the NCN11 try to take to join up? My preference would be neither.  Although I'd start along the Bottisham Lock route, I'd much prefer to continue up the river to Upware, then cut back at a better angle to Wicken Fen. However, much has already been done to bring the route through to Lug Fen Causeway that would make that a very unlikely option!

Food stop at Swaffham Bulbeck Lode.

Anglesey Abbey Parking

Later on my route, I found myself wondering why the residents of Lode had so many cars. Suddenly, it clicked. This was overflow from the Anglesey Abbey country house run by the National Trust.

My photo from

I did clip about this separately as I thought it quite awful. As I say on the clip:
  • The sheer volume of parking inadequately, some illegally, most disruptive to the local village, and pretty much all causing a blot on the landscape, Anglesey Abbey should hang it's head in shame.
This is within a mile of a good off-road cycleroute from Cambridge. So, rather than spending money building more parking space and concreting over the country yet further, why not invest the same in a decent off road route as a public donation? There's plenty of space and I bet many people visiting would rather have the family outing in more pleasant environment of being on a bike.

Green Lanes

The second part of this trip and video clip, was to look at the green lanes that straddle the space between the fens lodes and the hills to the south east. This has some history as it was the route that tribes to the north-east, like the Iceni, would travel down to the south west, and to the Icknield Way. Fleam Dyke was one the the defenses put up in harder times.

Out from Bottisham on the High Street, there's a short stretch of the A1303 to negotiate. It's unpleasant but is a large road with very clear sight lines. Cars still shoot past far too quickly, mostly as they have no idea of what the impact of their car is at such high speed whilst cocooned in a padded saftey cell. But it's only a short distance. Plenty of space for an off-road cyclepath though!

View picture larger

The turn off the A1303 is a little unwelcoming but battle on through the scrapyard, the overrun tarmac bridge over the A14, and there's a pleasant track quite soon.

The clip shows this bit best. The first bit is a quiet lane leading towards the Westley and Dullingham in the villages along the hill tops. Again, this offers a great way of getting between these places without having to go anywhere near main roads. The route is shown as the now defunct "road used as a path". It's clearly been blocked from motorised vehicles, so drops to being a bridleway.

The second section is perpendicular to the first and provides a way of getting from Newmarket to the Wilbrahams and the on into Cambridge.

Full Video Clip

This shows the full trip at 8 times speed. Key points are as follows.

00:00 Through Town from the Station
00:54 Along Riverside
01:27 NCN11 on river path
03:33 Clayhithe Bridge
03:49 End of NCN11 at Waterbeach railway station
04:20 Burgess Drove
04:50 Bottisham Lock
05:10 Warning signs
07:03 Food stop
08:05 New part of NCN11
09:25 Anglesey Abbey Parking
10:15 Turn onto A1303
10:45 Green lane to Westley
11:34 Green lane to Wilbraham
14:30 Bad pass in other clip