Thursday 20 June 2013

Boxworth Bourn Circuit

I've often looked at the map to the North West of Cambridge and wondered what exactly is there. It's always seemed an empty landscape, albeit full of farming. The settlements there seem to be small compared to others at this distance from Cambridge, short of the new village of Bar Hill, a myriad of new estates surrounding a shopping centre and light industrial area.

Bar Hill is bound by the A14. Not only in boundary but in everything as there's no motorised way out of them without using the A14. Likewise a small village of Lolworth just a bit further out. Then there's hamlets in the middle of fields like Childeley that seems to have no public access road.

Anyway, my curiosity got the better of me on Sunday, and I decided to have a look by bike. This is the route planned, along mostly quiet roads and green lanes.

Picture of Map

For those who prefer a dynamic map, this is it from Google Maps, although I'd recommend downloading the free software Google Earth to view it much better (download map).

View Larger Map

Leaving Cambridge I couldn't help a look along the river from the Con Fen Bridge. In summer the scene is beautiful from the people playing on the banks, through the trees in reflected in the water to the sheep grazing in the distance.

River Cam from Coe Fen Bridge

Also, looking back across the Coe Fen with it's meadow plants and The Leys school peeping through the cows lylandi (it's called that because they lie underneath it in the summer).

Coe Fen towards Leys School

Going along Lammas Land Road, the Barton Road cyclepath, and Grange Road gets you to The West Cambridge cyclepath which is a great segregated path along most of the West Cambridge campus and leads into the shared-use path all the way to Coton.

And in Coton the video starts.

Open in full on YouTube.

The road north from Coton is not such a great place to ride. It's luckily mostly free of traffic, although this doesn't mean most people think as their driving past you, especially near the parked cars and often do not give enough space. After that the road to Madingley has similar issues but does have the nice distraction of Madingley Hill Windmill and the American Cemetery on the left.

Madingley Hill Windmill

American Cemetery at Madingley

After that it's push on towards Madingley. Try to ignore the noisy A428 as you cross it. Again, a pretty little village with a stately pile in the middle (built in 1543).

Madingley Hall Gate

Madingley Hall

From Madingley it's onto Dry Drayton. The roads are better here as there's very little traffic. Unless, of course, there's a blockage on the A14 going west. Then, some will try to rat run it, probably to come back in about 5 cars further forward.

At Dry Drayton there's a useful little side road past the church which keeps you off the main road. At the end of that there's a cyclepath on the other side to take you to the Bar Hill path, if that's where you want to go. I'm not heading that way, but it does make for a useful connection to a local shopping centre.

I head off up the main road which is, I'm afriad, distinctly unpleasant. It is used as a regular rat run with cars trying to max out at 60mph along the straight bits without giving enough room. Luckily the bridleway off to the right is quite quick.

Sadly it's not a good bridleway and is distinctly unfriendly to cycling. I suspect not very many people would even think about riding a bike here, let along decide to try it after looking.

It's a route across a ploughed field which makes anything underneath very soft. This is a problem directly after ploughing but also further into the future. This is used by horses, so the hoof marks are deep in the soft soil and dig in across the route. It means that you have to find a happy medium in between the crop and the path to even get to be able to ride. I certainly would not ever think of this as a commuting route, it's just too harsh.

In the second field the crossing tractor ruts are very deep and unavoidable. These are deep enough to throw anyone not concentrating hard. It's only when a footpath joins the bridlepath that things become better. And that's the thing. Footpaths are maintained to a level that walkers wouldn't complain. In this case the thing would seem to be that the farmer has let the footpath define the field boundary and simply leaves it.

Of course, a farmer has to be able to manage their crops effectively, so I'm not suggesting that this also needs to be done to the bridleway, but the way in which the path skirts the field is an acceptable compromise. Looking at the map there's plenty of possibilities here which might be mutually benficial.

Stay on the Path!

Stay Off the Path!

3 Inch Deep Holes

Arriving in Childerley is interesting. It's a few houses around a farm and small manor style house. Looking at the map there's a lot of history here and it's mentioned in the Doomsday book. Still can't help the feeling that you're at the back of beyond, in a nice but eerie way!

My video managed to lose the next section as the camera shook loose, but it's through a field and a couple of gates next to the woods to the north before hitting a old green way. This is full of life and gives you occasional glimpses across the nearby fields.

Green Lane near Lolworth

Lolworth itself is one of the A14 carbound villages. You can't go anywhere by car from it without using the A14. However, it's a pretty little village and indeed won the best kept village in South Cambridgeshire once.

Turning north at the crossroads in the middle of the village takes you to a farmtrack and then another decent bridleway to Boxworth. You are greeted by Boxworth Manor with it's ponds and gardens.

Boxworth Manor Pond

Boxworth Manor Garden

Boxworth itself does have other car access than the A14, however, this isn't necessarily a good thing as cars do belt through the village. There are plenty of nice views to slow down for!

Boxworth House and Church

Meadow towards Cottages

Cottage Line

I leave Boxworth turning back south on the impressively named Battle Gate Road. It's a steady climb of 20 metres in 2 miles or around 0.75%. But you seem to always feel it! At the top, there's a place called Battle Gate. A new house is being built. That's it. No gate leading to the hording masses.

Another bridleway continues to a stables where a byway takes a right towards the top of the road to Bourn. Again, there's a feeling of being at the back of beyond.

Finally popping out at the old Cambridge-St Neot's road. It's been dualed so most traffic is now off this road, but it's still not a nice place to ride. I take advantage of a short path to get me to the Braodway, the road to Bourn.

To the right I can see the sprawling, growing mass of Cambourne. Not that I've got anything against it, I just don't want to live there. I'm sure plenty do, and I'm happy for them.

One thing I wanted to look at was how to get into Cambourne. Rightly, the developers have made only two car routes in. It means no-one wants to use it as a rat run, but also, it's not inconvenient to get into by car. However, on a bike, going round the complex could add miles to your journey. I wanted to look at a couple of paths in. I found routes where I didn't expect them. And according to Open Street Map these are perfectly fine. The one I did look for was definitely shut, although probably due to development.

Footpath Closed Towards Cambourne 

Opposite is Bourn airfield, which is also being considered for a housing development.

Bourn Airfield

My explorations went a bit off route as I really wanted to look at Bourn and especially one or two footpaths. This being one. And I really doubt it could be altered to being a bridleway!

Footpath in Bourn

Anyway, back on track. Well the Port Way track. This is a green route that goes almost directly east-west between Cambourne and Cambridge. This would be a perfect route to make a proper cycleway. Not only does it go direct, avoid being near the main road, but it also picks up all the villages along the way. Indeed the Cambridge to Coton end of it already IS a great cycleroute.

At the Caldecote end it's quite green and shaded. This is good and I suspect would still ride well in the wet.  The only issue is gravel traps across the route clearly to maintain the drainage. These are not good on a bike, being the equivalent of a 2 inch deep pothole.

Port Way East of Caldecote

At Caldecote, there is a bizarre 500 metre long completely segregated cyclepath. Yep. Just sat there blocked from the road by trees. It looks almost Milton Keynes like. The thing is, at the end of the path is one shop. Not a village shopping centre or school or village hall. In fact the latter two are further up, after you have to join the road for a good 100 more metres.

It becomes clear when you look at a map, that the path pust have been built at the same time in hte ast couple of years as the housing estate that covers around 100-200 homes. I'd suggest that the developers where told they had to do this when building the estate to cover some kind of sustainable transport directive. It's a lovely path, but if it doesn't get to the local amenties it's utterly, utterly, useless! Unless there's some kind of school-walk-to-school-along-the-100m-of-road scheme, no parent is going ot let their primary school children cycle along there.

Anyway, out of Caldecote and alongside some pretty holdings towards Hardwick. 

Port Way West of Caldecote

After skirting the bottom of Hardwick, more of Port Way and suddenly there's a long view of Cambridge! This doesn't do it justice. You seem to be looking at all the central landmarks from a slight hillside.

Long View of Cambridge from Port Way

Steadily getting closer and all the landmarks start to stand out. Well, they would if you weren't having ot hold onto the handlebars so grimly. The path has got very rutted with hoofprints and tractor tyre marks. One of the things about being in the country, although this would need to have some kind of plan as this will not be used by most people.

Closer View of Cambridge from Port Way

As the path gets to the Long Road out of Comberton, a local farmer has put in a permissive path to take riders to opposite the Coton bridleway. This is much appreciated and, I gather, sadly a result of a horse being killed by a driver on the road here. Another reason I no longer ride down that road. I've posted loads of clips of poor passing when I used to ride down here. I'm just sad that something like that had to happen but relieved that the local farmer was kind enough to get all us riders away from it.

Onto the final bridleway to Coton. and yet more glimpses of Cambridge landmarks, including the University Library.

Closer View of Cambridge from Coton Path 

Coton itself is a pretty village with a traditional village cricket green. This is where the video ends, back where it started.

Cottage in Coton 

However, the pictures continue into town with the University Library even more in view.

Univeristy Library from West Cambridge Cyclepath

Finally, Burrells Walk gives the last link into the centre.

Burrells Walk

And on it, is that University Library that seemed so small a few miles ago.

Univeristy Library from Burrells Walk

The route continues to the very centre of town along the very busy Garret Hostel Lane.

Busy Garrets Hostel Lane

And over the very busy Garret Hostel Bridge.

Punts and Tourists on Garret Hostel Brideg

Finally, passing the Gates of Honour...

Gate of Honour, Gonville & Caius

... on Senates House Passage.

Senate House Passage

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Blewbury to Ginge Ridgeway Circuit

A short post about a ride I did a few weeks ago.

View Blewbury to Ginge Ridegway Circuit in a larger map

The idea is to get away from motor vehicles as much as possible and there's plenty of chance to do this here.Of course, along with many more wild environments, there's a bit of "up" involved. I start at around 60m above sea level and at the top peak out at just over 200m. This isn't a particularly hard or big in comparison with other parts of the UK, but with some of it's off road nature can be a bit challenging.

So here's the clip of the full route described below.

Or look at it in YouTube.

Starting in Blewbury a small detour round the village to avoid the main road as much as possible. I allude to why in this post and especially at the end of the clip above you'll see the issues with traffic, further analysed here.

After a short, sharp bit of the A417, it's up to Churn along Bohams Road. This road is a tad rough, but perfectly usuable all year round. At Churn, as the road runs out you go over the old railway. There used to be a station here accompanying an old soldiers camp. The track to the west starts to get a bit rougher and a final turn up Gore Hill to the A34 crossing gets you to the ancient route of The Ridgeway.

You've done most of the climbing by now, but thanks to the rough surface and prevailing headwind the next few miles can be invigorating. They are certainly exhilarating with long views either way.

After topping out at Ginge Down, there's a right down a track. After letting go for a short while I was quickly on the brakes. Tracks round here can be covered in large lumps of flint which, aside the form the odd puncture worry, can throw the wheels sideways without as much as a "How's yer Father". And then the track corners sharply. Yet, more exhilaration, but with a soupçon of "please let me live".

At the bottom, you join the cycle route NCN544, going the other way, if you see what I mean. The road is very quiet and leads to East Lockinge followed by West Lockinge, which are two very pretty villages. Clearly money here comes from horses, with a statue on the village green.

Turning back through Ardington and then almost back on yourself and up the hills again gives a good sense of the unachievable circle. Just before closing the loop, there's a track back east which saves you the hassle of going a bit higher up the hill onto the cyclepath. Well, just consider that for a moment. Surely there's a reason the cyclepath is up there? Well, yep, as my backside will attest. It's fun, I'll give you that, but it's not really for bikes, and there's a clue in the last paragraph.

This route is clearly used by horses. Their hooves put cross-direction grooves in the mud in teh wet of spring. Later, these lumps harden to rock (well, almost!). So this track consists of lots of 1-2inch striations across the path making every second a bumpy, lumpy, rumpy affair. True, there's some relief at Ginge Brook as you have to get off to get the bike up the slope although it's a bit of a shame to see why it might be difficult.

After another mile of gluteus maximus massage, the cyclepath comes back down the hill and a great flat surface greets you like a smooth banana sundae. Ahead a few strange buildings appear on the horizon. It gets bigger and stranger the closer you get and you'll find yourself able to ride through the continuing scientific centre at Harwell, the reason I grew up nearby.

At this time they're building so there's a diversion round the campus. But then, it's offroad again along a decent track towards Hagbourne Hill. Again, the views are great, although you might want to block out Didcot Power Station.

The final bits are road based and quite nerve racking. The first lane is actually listed as on cycleroute NCN544. I'd only ever ride it this way as it's narrow, twisty, limited vision, and has a slope to it. I'm happy going at around 30mph downhill as I feel I'm not going to get a car behind me too quickly. However, the other way where 10mph may be the maximum leaves you feeling very vunerable to people driving at over 40mph up behind you withotu being able to see properly.

The second bit, from Upton, is the deeply unpleasant A417. I've written about this here and further analysed here.

Cyclists Dismount Sign

Yes, it's that favourite little blue rectangle, the "Cyclists Dismount" sign. Here it is in all it's glory.

I'm not quite going to say

"Never in human history has any sign been as misunterstood as much as this one"

but it can't be far off. And it's mainly due to the wording really, isn't it. Anyone reading that would quite rightly think it's an instruction to anyone riding a bike that they must get off the bike and push it. But actually it doesn't mean that at all.

The big clue is that it's on a blue background rectangle. These are referred to as "information" signs in the Highway Code. So, this sign is advisory only, it's not an instruction to do as the sign says. In fact, nowhere in the Highway Code, the Road Traffic Acts, or the The Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 will you find this sign with the instuction that "A cyclist MUST dismount".

The sign that requires a person cycling to stop is this one.

This is an stop "instruction" sign, with it's familiar round red circle on a white background. Speed limits appear the same, so we all know the format well.

There are several irritations about the sign, from a lot of different angles. One irritation to people riding is that there rarely is another sign saying "Remount". Another is it's a catch-all to reduce liability on the road owners in the event of an collision or other accident. An irritation as well is that some people seem keen to tell anyone who is cycling that they shouldn't be doing so.

Lots of wording has been suggested in campaigns to change this, although my favourite would be as follows.

I favour this for a few reasons.
  • It tells people riding that they have a responsibility to others by going slow
  • It also tells people to give way to those in a more vunerable position
  • It also is not grouping people as "cyclists" or "pedestrians", we are the same people. This reduces the "Us and Them" contentions that often plague these kind of interactions.
Also, perhaps this is the time to suggest this kind of responsibility should go up the chain. So people when driving sometimes need to be reminded they have a responsibility to people more vunerable than those inside cars.

So, what do you do when confronted by a quick throwaway comment that is less informed about the "Cyclists Dismount" sign. Here's an example.

Often the person is past and going on before you've had a chance to react. Shouting afterwards is not a pretty sight and can make you look like a bolshy bloody cyclist. Something that's unlikely to educate the incorrect statement by the other person. And more likely to leave an unpleasant taste in their mouths that leads to further antagonisms. We have to get people on our side, not fighting with incorrect knowledge!

So you really do have to be quick. As you can hear, I do quickly get in the words "Yeah, it's advisory", but he continues his conversation, possibly without hearing me. He does point out it's busier on a Sunday, but I didn't get that until later. I'd agree, but that's not really the point.

I think my favoured words would still be "It's advisory only", dropping the "Yeah" but including "only". And said calmly and with a smile. Indeed smiling from the start is always my thing on these interactions. And you'll also spot that I stop and hold up while he passes.

Anyway, there are more interesting comments on the clip. Some discussion about whether a mounted bike riding slowly takes up more space than pushing it. I still go for the former.

Anyway, let's have a look at some of the more ridiculous use of these signs. This is a classic in Harlow, Essex brgouht by the inimitable Warrington Cycle Facility of the Month.

And perhaps we should be looking to the world leaders of cycling facilities, where David Hembrow reliably informs us these signs hardly ever exist.

Roadwork Signs

A separate issue around the "Cyclists Dismount" sign is the red sign with white wording that accompanies roadworks. Here's an example from Oxford uploaded to

The text under the photo rightly refers to the guidance on road signs like this that say they should NOT be used. On page 6, it says as follows.

Where access is permitted for motor vehicles, "Cyclist Dismount" signs should not be used.

Of course these signs do have a purpose, here's an example of the correct use from Cambridge on It's real only use is to allow people to walk their bikes along a pavement where a road closure has taken place.

So, what sign should be used when roadworks come into the cyclelane or restrict the road without closing it to through traffic. Here's a start again from Cambridge from Phil Rodgers.