Sunday, 29 August 2010

29 Aug: Day ride to the Mildenhall Rally

We rarely have rides in the direction of Mildenhall because the routes there are limited and the landscape is, frankly, a bit dull - so when we assembled at Brookside for today's ride to visit the Mildenhall Rally I announced that I was going to head off on my own to explore the new bridge over Reach Lode and the cycleway across Burwell Fen.

Joan was the official leader of today's ride, and there was a good turnout at the start, with about eight or nine riders. She led us east out of Cambridge along Hills Road and the busy Cherry Hinton Road to Fulbourn. There we turned left towards the Wilbrahams and Bottisham.

When we reached Bottisham, Pete H and I separated from the others. The main group took the road to Swaffham Bulbeck, Swaffham Prior and Reach, where they stopped for a picnic coffee stop on the green. From there they planned to continue to Burwell and Exning and from there to Snailwell, Chippenham, Worlington and Mildenhall.

Pete and I, meanwhile, took the road north to Lode. We crossed the B1102 and continued on into the fens.

To get to the new bridge we followed the route across White Fen and the bridge over Swaffham Bulbeck Lode which opened a couple of years ago (see the map below for the exact route). After crossing Swaffham Bulbeck Lode we followed a series of narrow fen roads for a couple of miles. Soon we saw the new Reach Lode bridge in the distance, with a short length of new cycle path leading up to it.


The bridge doesn't open officially until September 12th, and no doubt there are still contruction workers on site during the week. However the piece of fencing that blocked the path seemed half-hearted and it was easy to cycle round it. In practice the bridge, and the new paths on each side, are finished, with only minor works needed to complete them. (There is a small upstand in the track surface on each side of the bridge. And some new cattle grids have been installed without any fencing to stop animals walking round them).

The bridge itself is an elegant, handsome structure.


As we crossed I was impressed by the use of wood to decorate the bridge. This gave it a pleasant rustic appearance.



On the far side of the bridge a new cycle path stretched into the distance across Burwell Fen. This has a soft, permeable surface which had already been damaged in place by horses. However at the moment the surface is adequate for cycling on and we made good progress.


After about a mile we reached Burwell Lode, running high up along a floodbank. And here the new cycle path came to an abrupt stop.


A new bridge is planned here, but this is still a couple of years away at least and construction has not yet started. In the meantime cyclists will be expected to use the existing stepped footbridge, which we could see about fifty yards away. However we could see obvious way to get there. There was a gate ahead of us but a fence still lay between the field beyond and the floodbank.

After considering our options for a minute or two we retraced our route for a short distance until we spotted a stile. We lifted our bikes over the stile and wheeled them up the steep slope to the top of the floodbank. This wasn't particular difficult but couldn't possibly be the route that the National Trust expected cyclists to take when they announced recently that this route would be open next month. Perhaps this bit simply hasn't been finished yet. I made a mental note to ask.

(Update: I have now received confirmation from The National Trust that a temporary access route to the footbridge will be provided in time for the official opening on 12th September).

After cycling along the top of the floodbank for a few yards we reached the footbridge. Slotted ramps had been installed to help cyclists get they bikes up the steps; Pete tried them but found that they were much too steep to be usable, so we carried our bikes over instead.


At the top of the footbridge we stopped to admire the view. The photo below shows the "cock up bridge". This bridge is permanently raised and the NT was unable to negotiate with the NRA a way of making it useable by cyclists (and others who cannot use steps). So until a completely new bridge is constructed we will have to use the footbridge, and the steps. Fortunately the bridge is not high so this won't be very difficult.



We found a place out of the wind beside the "cock-up bridge" and sat down to have coffee and something to eat.

A few hundred yards east of the bridge we rejoined the existing route of NCR 11. In one direction lay Wicken Fen, less than a mile away, and just to prove it we spotted a group from Cambridge Cycling Club speeding past.

So, assuming access from Burwell Fen to the footbridge over Burwell Lode is fixed soon, we now have a fine new route from Bottisham to Wicken Fen which completely bypasses Swaffham Bulbeck, Swaffham Prior, Reach and Burwell and is several miles shorter. This will no doubt be the new route for NCR 11: Ely has just got quite a bit nearer!

We didn't carry on to Wicken Fen. We went in the other direction, down the road to Burwell. In an attempt to catch up with the others we took the B1103 directly to Exning from where we followed a series of minor roads through Snailwell and Chippenham to Worlington. In the event we never did catch up the main group, and arrived at the rally site in Mildenhall at about 11.50am, to find the others had arrived about twenty minutes before us.

Many people come to Mildenhall for the whole weekend, staying in the campsite in the school grounds and going for cycle rides around the area. At the rally site itself there were two main activities. Of most interest to us were a number of trading stalls selling bike parts, clothes and equipment.


However the focus of the day was the grass track racing, including the Ladies National 800m Championships and the final rounds of the Men’s National Short Distance and Endurance Grass League.


At about 1pm the promised rain arrived, so we went inside to queue up for lunch. By the time we had finished eating the rain had stopped and the sun had at last come out. By now the serious grass track races had given over to some light-hearted novelty races, notably the "ring race" in which riders proceed around the track until an official blows a whistle, at which point everyone races to park a wheel in one of a number of hoops placed around the track.


Then the whistle blows again and the riders continue cycling. Meanwhile one or more of the hoops is removed, so that the next time the whistle blows the riders have to scramble for the remaining hoops, rather like a game of musical chairs; the rider who is unable to find a free hoop is out of the game. And so it repeats until there is only one person left, who by tradition celebrates his success by singing a little song. Most amusing.

By 2.30pm we had all had spent enough time watching races and wandering around the stalls, and set off back to Cambridge. Joan led us straight down the B1102 through Fordham and Burwell - not the most pleasant of routes but definitely the shortest.


The sun stayed shining and we had no further rain - and mercifully the expected headwind was relatively light. When we reached Lode we called in for tea at Anglesey Abbey.

I was back in Cambridge by about 5.30pm. With an outward distance of 33.8 miles and a return distance of 22.7, today's total mileage was 56.6 miles.


View this GPS track on a larger map

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